David Bennett Sr. was celebrated around the world this week as the first-ever pig heart transplant recipient, though family members of the man he repeatedly stabbed in the 1980s struggled to fully appreciate the medical marvel.
Diagnosed with terminal heart disease and ineligible for a human transplant, 57-year-old Bennett decided to take a chance and undergo the experimental procedure. On Jan. 7, doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore replaced his heart with one from a 1-year-old, 240-pound pig. Now, more than a week later, Bennett has not rejected the organ and is breathing on his own without a ventilator, though he remains on an ECMO machine.
Leslie Shumaker Downey was at home on Monday, babysitting her grandchildren, when her daughter texted her a link to an article cautiously proclaiming the procedure’s early success, the Washington Post reported. At first, she marveled over how many people it could save, but then she read the name of the man being heralded as a medical pioneer. He’d been convicted in the 1988 stabbing of her brother, Edward Shumaker, who was left paralyzed from the waist down after the attack.
Shumaker spent two decades in a wheelchair and suffered a series of medical complications, including a stroke that left him cognitively impaired. He died at age 40 in 2007.
“Ed suffered,” Downey told the Post. “The devastation and the trauma, for years and years, that my family had to deal with.”
She also pointed out that Bennett “went on and lived a good life,” something she feels her brother was robbed of.
“Now he gets a second chance with a new heart — but I wish, in my opinion, it had gone to a deserving recipient,” Downey added.
Bennett, then 23, attacked Shumaker while he was playing a round of pool at the Double T Lounge in Hagerstown on April 30, 1988 — after his wife at the time, Norma Jean Bennett, sat on Shumaker’s lap.
The two men had gone to high school together.
According to court testimony, Bennett attacked Shumaker from behind and stabbed him seven times in the abdomen, chest and back. He then fled the scene, triggering a high-speed chase with law enforcement, which ultimately culminated in his arrest.
Bennett faced several charges in connection with the violence, including intent to murder. A jury later found him found him guilty of battery and carrying a concealed weapon but ultimately acquitted him of the intent to murder charge. He was ordered to pay $29,824 in restitution and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
He served six before he was released in 1994.
Shumaker and his family also sued Bennett, who was ordered to pay $3.4 million in damages. Downey said they have not received a single cent.
Bennett’s son described him as a private and generous man but declined to discuss his criminal past. In a statement to the Post issued through the hospital, he instead pointed to his father’s bravery.
“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.”
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