Walters: Pig heart transplant patient continues to survive, begins physical therapy
It’s one of my favorite exchanges in an episode of “The Simpsons.”
The episode, titled “Lisa the Vegetarian,” first aired in 1995 and featured this back-and-forth between outspoken daughter Lisa and ignorant father Homer.
Homer: “Lisa, honey, are you saying you're never going to eat any animal again? What about bacon?”
Homer: “Pork chops?”
Lisa: [annoyed] “Dad! Those all come from the same animal!”
Homer: [chuckling] “Yeah, right, Lisa. A wonderful, magical animal.”
Yes, that episode might have aired more than 25 years ago, but Homer was onto something. The pig may just be a “wonderful, magical animal.”
Today I want to share an amazing story about how a pig has extended a man’s life.
FEB. 15 UPDATE: Pig heart transplant patient: 5 weeks after surgery, heart shows 'no signs of rejection'
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On Jan. 7, doctors transplanted the heart from a genetically modified pig into the chest of a man from Maryland in a last-ditch effort to save his life. The first-of-its-kind surgery is being hailed as a major step forward in the decades-long effort to successfully transplant animal organs into humans.
It almost seems ironic that an animal that we turn into food that could ruin a heart is also an animal that can provide a new one.
But I digress.
Doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center performed the surgery on David Bennett, 57, from Maryland, who had terminal heart disease. Several medical centers had determined he was ineligible for a human transplant.
In the past, when this type of surgery has been attempted, the animal organs have been quickly rejected by their human host.
Doctors say this new transplant is a breakthrough because the donor pig had undergone gene-editing to remove a specific type of sugar from its cells thought to be responsible for previous organ rejections in patients.
Background: First-ever pig-to-human heart transplant offers hope for thousands in need of organs
'The new heart is still a rock star': Man doing well after receiving first heart from gene-edited pig
Pig organs are considered suitable for transplant to humans because they are about the same size and shape.
On Jan. 28, three weeks after the heart transplant, Bennett underwent physical therapy for the first time.
The University of Maryland Medical Center recently had 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.
The biggest possible threat going forward for Bennett 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.
Doctors say the next step is building enough strength in Bennett’s legs to see if he can walk using a walker.
It will be interesting to see how long Bennet’s pig heart holds out. After three weeks, he's still doing OK.
Regardless, the fact that this worked at all brings hope to the more than 100,000 people on organ transplant lists.
On average, 17 people die each day waiting for organs.
We're all rooting for Bennett. He might not realize it, but he's a pioneer. As is the amazing medical team at the University of Maryland Medical Center that performed the procedure, and the doctors and scientists who developed it. Oh, yeah, and let's not forget the pig.
Yes, the same magical animal that gives us (albeit not by choice) bacon, ham and pork chops is now giving us its heart.
These truly are amazing times in which we are living.
Reporting from livescience.com and CBS Baltimore contributed to this column.
Walters can be reached at email@example.com
This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Pig heart transplant patient surviving, begins physical therapy