Historic pig heart recipient was convicted in 1988 stabbing

The first-ever pig heart transplant recipient once stabbed a bar patron seven times in a brutal attack that now has the victim’s stunned family questioning why the life-saving organ didn’t go to someone more “deserving,” a report said Thursday.

David Bennett, a 57-year-old suffering from terminal heart disease, was convicted of the 1988 bar stabbing of Edward Shumaker, according to The Washington Post.

Shumaker’s heartbroken sister, Leslie Shumaker Downey, now says the second chance at a heart should have gone to someone else.

“Ed suffered,” Downey told the paper. “The devastation and the trauma, for years and years, that my family had to deal with.” 

The attack forced her brother to use a wheelchair, led to a stroke and ultimately his death while Bennett has a new lease on life. 

“[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,” she said.

David Bennett was convicted of the 1988 bar stabbing of Edward Shumaker, an attack that resulted in the victim needing to use a wheelchair before having a stroke and dying.
University of Maryland School of

Bennett, then 23, attacked Shumaker while he was playing pool at the Double T Lounge in Hagerstown on April 30, 1988 after his then-wife, Norma Jean Bennett, sat on Shumaker’s lap, according to The Daily Mail, a Hagerstown newspaper.

Bennett struck Shumaker from behind then stabbed him repeatedly in the abdomen, chest and back, according to court testimony cited by The Washington Post.

Members of the surgical team show the pig heart for transplant into patient David Bennett.
Bennett became the first person to ever successfully receive a genetically modified pig heart transplant.
AP

He then fled cops in a high-speed chase and was charged with intent to murder and openly carrying a concealed weapon, among other charges. 

A jury found him guilty of battery and carrying a concealed weapon but acquitted him of of intent to murder. Washington County Circuit Judge Daniel Moylan called the stabbing a case of “extreme violence” and sentenced him to 10 years behind bars.

The attack ultimately tore her family apart, Downey said. “It was just pure hell until the day Ed died,” she said.

Surgeons performing a transplant of a heart from a genetically modified pig to patient David Bennett, Sr.
Some critics are outraged that a person convicted of a violent crime would be awarded an organ that so many others so desperately need.
UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND SCHOOL OF

On Friday, Bennett — who suffered from heart failure and an irregular heartbeat — became the first person to ever successfully receive a genetically modified pig heart transplant in a historic 9-hour surgery.

The first-of-its-kind procedure saved his life and offered hope to others on organ transplant waiting lists, according to doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

More than 106,000 Americans are on a national waiting list for an organ transplant with 17 people dying each day while they wait — raising questions about the ethics of who deserves the coveted organs, the paper reported. 

Bennett with members of his family out to dinner.
Bennett, pictured with his family, was suffering from terminal heart disease.
AP

To some families, it’s an outrage that a person convicted of a violent crime would be awarded an organ others so desperately need. But doctors often disagree and there are no laws prohibiting someone with a criminal history from receiving a transplant.

“The key principle in medicine is to treat anyone who is sick, regardless of who they are,” said Arthur Caplan, a bioethics professor at New York University. “We are not in the business of sorting sinners from saints. Crime is a legal matter.”

Instead, other factors such as a person’s health background, history of substance abuse or risk of developing an infection while in prison are taken into consideration.

David Bennett with family and after his surgery
Decades before his historic heart surgery, Bennett was convicted of repeatedly stabbing a man in a bar before fleeing police.
AP

University of Maryland Medical Center officials declined to comment to the paper about whether they knew about Bennett’s criminal past.

Officials said the Baltimore hospital provides “lifesaving care to every patient who comes through their doors based on their medical needs, not their background or life circumstances.”

“This patient came to us in dire need,” the officials added.

Bennett’s son, David Bennett Jr, declined to discuss his father’s criminal record with the paper.

“He has a strong will and desire to live,” he said.

Claudia has worked as a journalist for various print-based magazines for more than 5 years. She brings together substantial news pieces from various parts of the US and rest of the World.