By Andile Tshuma in BULAWAYO

HEALTH experts have celebrated a medical milestone where a pig’s heart has been successfully transplanted to a human being, describing the development as a beacon of hope for heart disease patients’ future treatments.

This follows the successful experimental surgery where a 57-year-old man successfully received a pig’s heart on Saturday, at the Maryland research hospital in the United States of America.

According to reports, the organ recipient is breathing on his own; without life support

However, his new heart is being assisted by machines to pump blood, with doctors weaning him slowly from the machines.

The one-year-old pig’s heart was genetically modified and it was bred specifically for this purpose.

The medical experts said while it is way too early for patients to expect such surgeries to be done, the successful surgery at the Maryland hospital has put into action years of research and is showing that there is hope for the treatment of heart disease in the future. 

Local specialist doctors who spoke to the Daily News yesterday described the move as a much-needed medical breakthrough warning however, that   it was still early to celebrate as more research is yet to go into the transplants before they are made available to the public.

Bulawayo provincial medical director Maphios Siamuchembu, a general surgeon, welcomed the move and called for the government to invest more in the health sector and research.

“That is a great development and it shows just how much can be done and achieved if there are resources. We are following the developments closely and with interest as medical practitioners. While this is happening in the first world, far away from us, it remains a positive step towards a better future in the medical fraternity,” Siamuchembu said.

On his part Bulawayo director of health services, Edwin Sibanda, said the development was a reflection of the dividends paid from investment into public health research.

 “The future will be interesting. Thinking that there may be more sources of substitute organs other than human organs is relieving as there will not be a need to wait for donors to die before recipients get transplants.

This is really welcome and we are following. It shows that the future of medicine and public health is very hopeful,” said Sibanda.

On the other hand, specialist cardiovascular physician and thoracic surgeon, Percy Simukai Muchawira  who is departmental head at the Parirenyatwa  Hospital said there was a critical shortage of organ donors worldwide and the possibility if using animal organs to save human lives would save millions of lives.

“This is a medical milestone worth celebrating and as specialist physicians we are excited with the possibility of more treatment options for heart disease patients. This would mean that patients in need of organ donors do not wait for a donor to die so that they receive organs, but we are seeing a future where animals are bred especially for organ harvesting to be transplanted to human beings. Well that may take years and years of research, however the fact that it has been done now and the patient is still alive is indeed a pointer to a better future with more options for our heart disease patients,” he said.