Patient in pioneering heart transplant has a violent criminal record


A sick Maryland man who received a pig heart last week in a groundbreaking transplant procedure has a criminal record stemming from an attack 34 years ago in which he repeatedly stabbed a young man, leaving him paralyzed.

The victim, Edward Shumaker, spent 20 years in a wheelchair, was paralyzed from the waist down and suffered numerous medical complications, including a stroke that left him cognitively impaired, before dying in 2007 at the age of 40, according to his sister, Leslie Shumaker Downey, of Frederick, Md.

The Washington Post reported on Thursday for the first time the transplant patient’s criminal record and the mistreatment that led to it. The revelations have sparked debate about how patients are selected for advanced medical care.

The patient, David Bennett Sr., 57, is being closely monitored at the University of Maryland Medical Center for signs that his body is rejecting a heart received from a genetically modified pig. He was still doing well on Thursday, hospital officials said.

The attack took place on April 30, 1988, when Mr Shumaker, 22, was drinking in a bar and talking to Mr Bennett’s wife. In an apparent fit of jealousy, Mr. Bennett stabbed Mr. Shumaker repeatedly in the back.

The attack and its aftermath have devastated the family, Ms Downey said. “It crushed my parents,” she said. “It was just hell.”

He was charged with assault, assault and mutilation with intent to murder, according to court records obtained by The New York Times, but was convicted on lesser charges of battery and carrying a concealed weapon and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was also ordered to pay Mr. Shumaker $29,824 in restitution, but Ms. Downey said he failed to comply.

In an effort to recover his substantial medical expenses, Mr. Shumaker and his family sued Mr. Bennett and were awarded $3.4 million in damages, court records show. Ms Downey said the family never received any money.

“The transplant gave him life,” Ms. Downey said of Mr. Bennett. “But my brother never got a second chance in life. Ed struggled every day for 19 years. No one deserves what he’s been through.”

But the doctors of Mr. Bennett said such disturbing histories do not disqualify patients from undergoing advanced medical procedures.

Officials from the University of Maryland Medical Center, where the transplant was performed, said in a statement that health care providers are committed to treating all patients, regardless of background or living conditions.

“It is the solemn obligation of any hospital or healthcare organization to provide life-saving care to every patient that comes to them based on their medical needs,” the officials said.

“Any other standard of care would set a dangerous precedent and violate the ethical and moral values ​​underlying the obligation physicians and healthcare providers have to all patients entrusted to their care.”

Credit…Byron Dillard, via Associated Press

Through the medical center, Mr. Bennett Sr.’s son, David Bennett Jr., who was a young boy when the attack took place, declined to comment on his father’s criminal background.

“I don’t want to talk about my father’s past,” he said in a statement from the University of Maryland. “My intention is to focus on the groundbreaking surgery and my father’s desire to contribute to science and potentially save patients’ lives in the future.”

Doctors usually don’t examine patients whether they deserve treatment, said Karen J. Maschke, a research scientist at the Hastings Center and editor of Ethics & Human Research.

“There’s a long-standing norm in medical ethics that doctors don’t choose who to treat,” she said. The question has arisen in the context of incarcerated people and enemies at war, and more recently people with Covid choosing not to get vaccinated, she noted.

“Where would you draw the line if you were to pick and choose?” asked Dr. maschke.

The outrage expressed on social media at Mr. Bennett Sr. is not right, argued Arthur Caplan, professor of bioethics at NYU Grossman School of Medicine. The transplant isn’t just the first of its kind — it’s highly experimental and could very well fail, he said.

“To be clear, he didn’t take a human organ from anyone,” said Dr. caplan. “No one died because this man got a pig heart.”

The heart that is in Mr. Bennett was transplanted from a genetically engineered pig supplied by Revivicor, a regenerative medicine company in Blacksburg, Virginia.

The pig genome contains 10 modifications, including genes that have been inactivated to reduce aggressive human rejection responses and to prevent the heart from continuing to grow after it was implanted.

Six human genes were introduced to make the pig organs more tolerable for the human immune system.

There is an acute shortage of organs for people with failing kidneys, hearts, lungs and other organs, and the hope is that perfecting the science of transplanting organs from genetically altered animals will usher in a new era where patients will no longer die while they wait for a replacement kidney or heart.

Susan C. Beachy research contributed.

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