In a first-of-its-kind surgery, Shady Side Academy alumnus and transplant surgeon Dr. Bartley P. Griffith '66 performed a successful transplant of a genetically modified pig heart into a 57-year-old man with terminal heart disease. The historic surgery was conducted by University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) faculty at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC).
This organ transplant demonstrated for the first time that a genetically modified animal heart can function like a human heart without immediate rejection by the body. The patient, Maryland resident David Bennett, had been deemed ineligible for a conventional heart transplant.
"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," said Bennett.
The FDA granted emergency authorization for the surgery on New Year's Eve through its expanded access (compassionate use) provision. It is used when an experimental medical product is the only option available for a patient faced with a serious or life-threatening medical condition.
"This was a breakthrough surgery and brings us one step closer to solving the organ shortage crisis. There are simply not enough donor human hearts available to meet the long list of potential recipients," said Dr. Griffith, who is the Thomas E. and Alice Marie Hales Distinguished Professor in Transplant Surgery at UMSOM and director of the Cardiac Transplant Program at UMMC. "We are proceeding cautiously, but we are also optimistic that this first-in-the-world surgery will provide an important new option for patients in the future."
About 110,000 Americans are currently waiting for an organ transplant, and more than 6,000 patients die each year before getting one. Xenotransplantation could potentially save thousands of lives but does carry a unique set of risks, including the possibility of triggering an immediate rejection of the organ with a potentially deadly outcome to the patient.
Dr. Griffith is a Pittsburgh native who graduated from Shady Side Academy in 1966. Prior to the joining the University of Maryland, he served as vice chair in the Department of Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, where he was also chief of cardiothoracic surgery and founding director of the internationally recognized McGowan Center for Artificial Organ Development. At Pitt he also trained under Drs. Thomas Starzl and Henry Bahnson. In the early 1980s he became the youngest American surgeon to complete a heart transplant at age 33 and the second surgeon in history to complete a heart-lung transplant. He is also the father of current Shady Side Academy President Bart Griffith Jr. '93.
Watch a video of Dr. Griffith talking about the historic surgery:
Congratulations, Dr. Griffith!