The dying handyman who became the first patient in the world to get a heart transplant from a genetically-modified pig stabbed a man he met in a bar seven times more than three decades ago, leaving him paralyzed and wheelchair-bound.
David Bennett, 57, served time in prison for attacking Edward Shumaker, then 22, while he played pool at a Maryland bar in April 1988 after he caught his then-wife Norma Jean Bennett sitting in Shumaker’s lap while the pair were talking and drinking.
Shumaker suffered blows to his back, abdomen and chest. He remained paralyzed for 19 years before suffering a stroke in 2005 and dying two years later, aged 40.
Bennett, 23 at the time of the attack, was convicted of battery and carrying a concealed weapon, and was sentenced to ten years in prison, but did not serve the entire sentence. His exact time behind bars remains undisclosed but Shumaker’s family said it was five years.
Last Friday, the former convict, who suffered from terminal heart failure and an uncontrollable irregular heartbeat, underwent a groundbreaking transplant that saved his life.
‘The new heart is still a rock star,’ Dr. Bartley Griffith, who led the transplant team at the University of Maryland Medical Center, told USA Today Wednesday. ‘It seems to be reasonably happy in its new host … It has more than exceeded our expectations.’
However, Shumaker’s family — learning of the surgery from media coverage — feels Bennett did not deserve the innovative medical treatment and wishes the pig heart could have been given to someone else in need.
‘Ed suffered,’ his sister Leslie Shumaker Downey told the Washington Post. ‘The devastation and the trauma, for years and years, that my family had to deal with. Bennett went on and lived a good life. Now he gets a second chance with a new heart — but I wish, in my opinion, it had gone to a deserving recipient.’
Although the loved ones of violent crime victims may feel convicts should not receive lifesaving procedures, there are not any US laws or regulations prohibiting treatment. In fact, the Medical Code of Ethics requires doctors to ‘be dedicated to providing competent medical service with compassion and respect’ for all patients.
David Bennett (pictured right with surgeon Dr. Bartley Griffith on his left) last week became the first patient in the world to get a heart transplant from a genetically-modified pig. Now, he is facing criticisms from the family of a man he stabbed seven times
Bennett served time in prison for attacking Edward Shumaker (pictured in a nursing home on Christmas in 2003) while he played pool at a Maryland bar in April 1988 after he caught Shumaker being friendly with his then-wife
The University of Maryland Medical Center, declining to say whether officials were aware of Bennett’s criminal history, told the newspaper the patient came to the facility ‘in dire need’ and that doctors made a decision about his transplant eligibility ‘solely on his medical records.’
Hospital officials also argued the facility provides ‘lifesaving care to every patient who comes through their doors based on their medical needs, not their background or life circumstances.’
Shumaker’s sister, Leslie Downey (pictured), said the attack left her younger brother paralyzed and wheelchair-bound until he died at age 40. She feels Bennett did not deserve the innovative medical treatment and wishes the pig heart could have been given to someone else in need
Medical ethics experts allege the separation between the legal and healthcare systems ‘exists for good reason’.
‘We have a legal system designed to determine just redress for crimes,’ said Scott Halpern, a medical ethics professor at the University of Pennsylvania. ‘And we have a health-care system that aims to provide care without regard to people’s personal character or history.’
‘The key principle in medicine is to treat anyone who is sick, regardless of who they are,’ Arthur Caplan, a bioethics professor at New York University, echoed. ‘We are not in the business of sorting sinners from saints. Crime is a legal matter.’
However, Downey — who watched her younger brother suffer for many years — said learning of Bennett’s transplant and watching people hail him as a hero is hurtful to their family.
‘It was just pure hell until the day Ed died,’ she said, alleging Shumaker suffered from infections, bed sores and a stroke that left him with a ‘child’s mental capacity’.
‘David Bennett got 10 years, only served 5 years. My brother won a 3.4 million dollar lawsuit against Bennett and Bennett worked under the table, married someone putting everything in her name, so my brother would not ever receive a penny from the lawsuit,’ she wrote in a Facebook post.
Downey argued that Bennett caused physical, emotional and financial pain to their family. She is upset that he is ‘being given another shot at life’. She said: ‘My brother Ed wasn’t given a shot at life. Ed was given a death sentence’
‘I was told by someone a bit ago that it doesn’t matter what Bennett did because it’s unethical to refuse treatment to Bennett because he’s simply a human. No way is he a hero. David Bennett is an attempted murderer, turned murderer because my brother died due to the act of being stabbed by Bennett 19 years later.’
She added, speaking to the Post: ‘He’s being given another shot at life. But my brother Ed wasn’t given a shot at life. Ed was given a death sentence.’
Bennett underwent the nine-hour experimental procedure at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore on Saturday.
Surgeons used a heart taken from a pig that had undergone gene-editing to make it less likely that his body’s immune system would reject the organ.
Bennett has since been taken off the machine that kept blood circulating through his body for more than 45 days and is breathing on his own. Doctors said he is even speaking but with a quiet voice.
Bennett underwent the nine-hour experimental procedure (pictured) at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore on Saturday. His doctors, refusing to indicate if they were aware of Bennett’s criminal history, said they made a decision about his transplant eligibility ‘solely on his medical records’
Surgeons used a heart taken from a pig that had undergone gene-editing to make it less likely that his body’s immune system would reject the organ
Bennett (center with his son, David Bennett Jr. on left and Dr. Muhammad Mohiuddin on right) was recently taken off the machine that kept blood circulating through his body for more than 45 days and is breathing on his own. Doctors said he is even speaking but with a quiet voice
His surgeon, Dr. Griffith planned to leave Bennett plugged into the heart-lung machine for another week but told USA Today on Wednesday: ‘The heart was rocking and rolling and he was so stable that we elected to remove it.’
Due to his condition, Bennett was ineligible for a human heart or pump. He also did not follow his doctors’ orders, missed appointments and stopped taking drugs he was prescribed.
It is not clear what medicine he was told to take but heart disease patients are often prescribed blood thinners or drugs such as beta blockers and ACE inhibitors to keep their blood pressure down.
Underlying conditions that could hamper the success of the surgery, as well as their ability to stick to a treatment plan before and after the op, is a major consideration among medics deciding who should be given a life-saving organ.
It is still too soon to know if his body will fully accept the organ and the next few weeks will be critical. His doctors also remain concerned about Bennett’s risk for infection risk.
A pig heart was gathered for a terminal heart disease patient who was ineligible for a human heart transplant. Scientists inserted six human genes into the genome of the donor pig — modifications designed to make the organ more tolerable to the human immune system. They inactivated four genes, including sugar in its cells that is responsible for that hyper-fast organ rejection and a growth gene to prevent the pig’s heart, which weighs around 267g compared to the average human heart which weighs 303g, from continuing to expand. Surgeons at the University of Maryland Medical Center performed a nine-hour surgery to remove the patient’s heart and insert the altered pig heart
But, if successful, the transplant would mark a medical breakthrough and could save thousands of lives in the US alone each year. Doctors called the procedure a ‘watershed event’.
Bennett knew there was no guarantee the risky operation would work but was too sick to qualify for a human organ. A day before his pioneering surgery, Bennett said it was ‘either die or do this transplant’, adding: ‘I want to live. I know it’s a shot in the dark, but it’s my last choice.’
His son, David Bennett Jr., said his father cannot wait to be released from the hospital and is grateful that his doctors took a chance on him with this procedure.
‘My dad’s a fighter,’ David said. ‘He was chosen to do this. He chose to do this.’
After the procedure, Bennett thanked the doctors and scientists who spent decades researching and developing the procedure.
Griffith said the thanks ‘just set me back on my heels’.
‘I should be thanking him for all he has done in terms of his willingness to participate and how much work he’s put into getting well and into cooperating with the plan,’ the surgeon added.
David Bennett Jr. (right) said his father (left) cannot wait to be released from the hospital and is grateful that his doctors took a chance on him with this procedure
Bennett Jr. (left), describing his father (second from left, with several family members) as a ‘private and selfless man,’ said Bennett also considered how the procedure could be used to help others when he elected to have the surgery. He also declined to comment on his dad’s criminal history
There is a huge shortage of human organs donated for transplant in the US and the UK, driving scientists to try to figure out how to use animal organs instead.
Nearly 120,000 Americans are in need of healthy organs and, on average, 20 people die each day waiting for one to become available.
Last year, there were just over 3,800 heart transplants in the US, a record number, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), which oversees the nation’s transplant system.
Prior attempts at animal organ transplants – or xenotransplantation – have failed, largely because patients’ bodies rapidly rejected the organs. Notably, in 1984, ‘Baby Fae’ — who was born with a rare heart condition — lived 21 days with a baboon heart.
Bennett Jr., describing his father as a ‘private and selfless man,’ said Bennett also considered how the procedure could be used to help others when he elected to have the surgery.
‘This was something that made me proud as a son,’ Bennett Jr. said. ‘This tops everything, in terms of what makes me proud. He has a strong will and desire to live.’
He also declined to discuss his father’s alleged criminal record saying: ‘My intent here is not to speak about my father’s past. My intent is to focus on the groundbreaking surgery and my father’s wish to contribute to the science and potentially save patient lives in the future.’