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Recipient Of Pig Heart Undergoing Physical Therapy For First Time, University Of Maryland Says

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- David Bennett, the 57-year-old man who is the first transplant recipient of a genetically modified pig heart, is still recovering and undergoing physical therapy for the first time, the University of Maryland Medical System said.

The organization on Friday released a photo, taken one week ago, showing Bennett's bed tilted almost completely upright as he works with physical therapists. It's the first time Bennett has been in a standing position since two months before the procedure.

Bennett was diagnosed with terminal heart disease and was deemed ineligible for a human heart transplant. He also didn't qualify for an artificial heart pump due to his life-threatening arrhythmia.

The pig heart transplant was newly authorized this month and uses gene-editing to take out certain genes that scientists think lead to organ rejection.

In interviews provided by UMMS, Dr. Bartley Griffith and Dr. Muhammad Mohiuddin said there were positive signs that Bennett's body was not accepting the new organ.

"We're feeling progressively confident that we are ahead of issues with respect to heart rejection," said Griffith, director of the cardiac transplant program at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

The biggest possible threat going forward, he said, is infection of the heart, although there are currently no signs of disease or other conditions.

Echocardiogram tests showed the new heart is properly squeezing, pushing blood out and relaxing, the doctors said.

Mohiuddin, the director of the center's cardiac xenotransplantation program, noted Bennett has survived more than 18 days, longer than the first-ever recipient of a heart transplant.

"So every day is kind of like a new day for us," he said. "We are happy that we are not seeing rejection. We are happy that we are not seeing any other complications, and we are ready to encounter them if we see any."

Griffith said the next step in Bennett's physical therapy will be to build up the strength in his legs so he can walk using a walker.

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