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Pig used in historic human heart transplant was infected with virus that may have contributed to patient's death: 'All he wanted to do was live'

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Photo by NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP via Getty Images

The pig used in a historic human heart transplant was said to have been infected with a porcine virus that may have contributed to the death of its recipient, David Bennett Sr.

What are the details?

The surgeon who treated 57-year-old David Bennett Sr. said that the patient "looked infected," MIT Technology Review reported on Wednesday.

Bennett, who was suffering from terminal heart disease, died two months after January's groundbreaking surgery.

According to the report, health experts said that the pig used in the surgery was carrying a porcine virus.

"MIT Technology Review has learned that Bennett’s heart was affected by porcine cytomegalovirus, a preventable infection that is linked to devastating effects on transplants," the outlet reported.

The pig was supposed to be free of all infections and contaminants.

“It was surprising. That pig is supposed to be clean of all pig pathogens, and this is a significant one,” Mike Curtis, CEO of eGenesis, told the outlet. “Without the virus, would Mr. Bennett have lived? We don’t know, but the infection didn’t help. It likely contributed to the failure.”

In blood tests, doctors saw a "blip" indicating the presence of porcine cytomegalovirus approximately three weeks after the surgery.

Three weeks later, Bennett's recovery began heading backward and infection was suspected.

"He looked really funky," said transplant surgeon Bartley Griffith of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "Something happened to him. He looked infected. He lost his attention and wouldn't talk to us."

Griffith added that follow-up studies indicated that Bennett may have died after a porcine virus "set this whole thing off."

“These losses are hard,” Griffith said of Bennett's death. “This was a patient. It wasn't an experiment to us. All he wanted to do was live. In fact, he was such a funny guy. On the way in to get his pig heart transplant, he looked at me and he said squarely, ‘Are you sure I can’t get a human heart?’”

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