BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The first transplant recipient of a genetically modified pig heart continues to recover at The University of Maryland Medical Center. The groundbreaking surgery happened last Friday.

As David Bennett continues to improve, his son, David Bennett Jr., said on Tuesday that Bennett was taken off the ECMO machine, an advanced form of life support that pumps and oxygenates blood.

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“Overall, he’s a lot better looking,” Bennett Jr. said. “His vitals are a lot better now than they’ve been in the past.”

Bennett, 57, is a Maryland native that was diagnosed with terminal heart disease.

When he was deemed ineligible for a human heart transplant, Bennett was presented with an alternative option: a pig heart transplant.

“For me, it seemed like a win-win,” Bennett Jr. said. “First of all, his prognosis-I didn’t think that he was going to be able to make it out of the hospital given the severity of his heart failure. So, the potential to give him more life and the quality of life that he saw was favorable and then the fact that provide hope for others.”

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The procedure was newly authorized this month and uses gene-editing to take out certain genes that scientists think leads to organ rejection.

“[Bennett] said ‘I don’t want to die,'” Doctor Bartley Griffith said. “He said ‘if I do, maybe you’ll learn something to help others.’”

With more than 6,000 Americans dying each year while waiting for an organ transplant, the implications of Bennett’s success are huge.

Bennett Jr. said his father is still very much recovering and doctors are cautiously optimistic.

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“I’ve had at least three people – the surgeon, anesthesiologist, the nurse – all are very pleasantly surprised with his progress and frankly said he’s doing better than some of the patients they’ve seen with human heart transplants,” Bennet Jr. said.

Paul Gessler