David Bennett, the first person to have had pig heart transplant surgery died yesterday afternoon (March 8), the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) has said.

Bennett made headlines two months ago when he was the subject of a breakthrough operation whereby a genetically modified pig heart was used for the first time in a human transplant surgery.

The 57-year-old US man was bedridden and on a heart-lung bypass machine, which was keeping him alive. He was deemed ineligible for a conventional heart transplant.

He was fully aware that the pig heart transplant was experimental and came with unknown risks.

“It was either die or do this transplant. I want to live. I know it’s a shot in the dark, but it’s my last choice,” Bennett said before the surgery was conducted.

Dr. Griffith and David Bennett. Source: University of Maryland Medical Centre

Following surgery, the transplanted heart performed well for several weeks without any signs of rejection. Bennett lived for two months post-operation and was able to spend time with his family and participate in physical therapy to help regain strength.

He watched the Super Bowl with his physical therapist and spoke often about wanting to get home to his dog Lucky.

However, his condition began deteriorating several days ago, UMMC said.

When it became clear that he would not recover, he was given compassionate palliative care. Bennett was able to communicate with his family during his final hours.

“We are devastated by the loss of Mr. Bennett,” said Bartley P Griffith, MD, who conducted the transplant surgery.

“He proved to be a brave and noble patient who fought all the way to the end. We extend our sincerest condolences to his family.

“Mr. Bennett became known by millions of people around the world for his courage and steadfast will to live.”

“We are grateful to Mr. Bennett for his unique and historic role in helping to contribute to a vast array of knowledge to the field of xenotransplantation,” added Muhammad M. Mohiuddin, MD, Prof. of surgery and scientific director of the cardiac xenotransplantation programme at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

“We have gained invaluable insights learning that the genetically modified pig heart can function well within the human body while the immune system is adequately suppressed.

“We remain optimistic and plan on continuing our work in future clinical trials.”