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Pig Heart Patient Had a Brutal Criminal Record

It seems like successful pig heart recipient David Bennet may have been a bit of swine himself in the past. Perhaps that’s why the surgery went so well?

Not to disparage the brilliant surgeons who performed the first of its kind miraculous surgery, but maybe they should have chosen a heart failure victim who was a little more worthy and less controversial.

It has come to light that Bennet, age 57, has a violent criminal past.  

Apparently, Bennet was convicted in 1988 of brutally stabbing Edward Shumaker in a bar fight. 

When she heard that Bennet was the recipient of the lifesaving experimental surgery — Shumaker’s sister, Leslie Shumaker Downey, was shocked and heartbroken. She says the second chance at a heart should have gone to someone else.

“Ed suffered,” Downey told the Washington Post, “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, which 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.

Bennett, who was 23 at the time, 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.

The heart-recipient then fled the scene leading cops on a high-speed chase. Once he was apprehended, he 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 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.

One of a Kind Surgery

Despite his checkered past, on Jan. 7, 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. The waitlist system has always raised questions about the ethics of who deserves the coveted organs. The list is based on medical need and the health of the patient – unlawful behavior that does not jeopardize the patient’s health, such as alcohol or drug abuse – does not factor into position on the list.  

To families like Downey’s, it’s an outrage that a person convicted of a violent crime would be awarded an organ that 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.”

University of Maryland Medical Center officials declined to comment 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 Washington Post.

“He has a strong will and desire to live,” is all he would say.