David Bennett was 57 years old, and suffering from heart failure, among several other health problems. He was not a candidate for a heart transplant because he had a history of not following doctor’s orders. In January, he had been in a hospital bed for two months when he received an experimental procedure of last resort: a transplant heart from a pig, an operation that had been in the works, but had never been performed on a human. The heart came from a pig that had been genetically modified with human genes to be more compatible. The pig heart started pumping, and Bennett survived the surgery. But he died 60 days later.
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Why did Bennett die? The surgery was deemed successful, but if “cardiac xenotransplantation” is to ever be useful, post-surgical complications must be identified and addressed. Doctors still haven’t pinpointed the cause of death, but they have four possibilities that are described and explored at Smithsonian.
(Image credit: University of Maryland School of Medicine)