Man Who Received Pig Kidney Transplant Dies Weeks after Milestone Surgery

Michelle Rose/Massachusetts General Hospital
Transplant recipient Richard “Rick” Slayman in his hospital room at Massachusetts General Hospital before his discharge on April 3.

Richard “Rick” Slayman, the first patient to receive a genetically edited kidney from a pig, has died nearly two months after the milestone surgery, according to his family and a statement from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, where he had the transplant.

The hospital, which said it was “deeply saddened at the sudden passing” of Slayman in a statement shared to social media Saturday, said it had “no indication” that Slayman’s death “was the result of his recent transplant.”

Slayman, who at 62 made history on March 16 as the first living person to receive such a transplant, battled kidney disease for more than a decade.

He survived a human kidney transplant in 2018, but grew desperately ill. Doctors got approval from the Food and Drug Administration, which allowed the surgery under its “compassionate use” rules, to try the xenotransplant – the process of implanting organs from one species into another.

The approval is granted in cases where a patient has a “serious or immediately life-threatening disease or condition” and there are no alternative treatments, according to the FDA.

The operation took four hours. Researchers made 69 edits to the pig’s genetic code to reduce the risk of Slayman’s immune system attacking the transplanted pig’s organ.

Slayman’s family said in a statement to media outlets that they were “deeply saddened about the sudden passing of our beloved Rick but take great comfort knowing he inspired so many” and thanked his doctors, saying medical staff “truly did everything they could to help give Rick a second chance.”

“Their enormous efforts leading the xenotransplant gave our family seven more weeks with Rick, and our memories made during that time will remain in our minds and hearts,” the statement said.

“Millions of people worldwide have come to know Rick’s story,” the statement said. “We felt – and still feel – comforted by the optimism he provided patients desperately waiting for a transplant.”

As he left the hospital in April, Slayman said it was “one of the happiest moments” of his life. He said he was looking forward to spending time with his loved ones “free from the burden of dialysis that has affected my quality of life for many years.”

Following the surgery, the hospital said Slayman was “recovering well” and credited research, studies and collaboration for making the procedure possible.

Before the operation in March, Slayman was near despair, The Washington Post reported. According to doctors, Slayman told them: “I just can’t go on like this. I don’t want to go on like this.”

More than 100,000 people are on the national waiting list for a transplant, the Associated Press reported. Most of them are kidney patients and thousands die every year before they can get a transplant.

The hospital said that Slayman “will forever be seen as a beacon of hope to countless transplant patients worldwide.”