Lawrence Faucette, the second living person to receive a genetically modified pig heart in a transplant, has died six weeks after the experimental procedure. The University of Maryland Medical Center, where the experimental procedure had been performed, said the heart began to show signs of rejection in recent days.
“Mr. Faucette’s last wish was for us to make the most of what we have learned from our experience, so others may be guaranteed a chance for a new heart when a human organ is unavailable. He then told the team of doctors and nurses who gathered around him that he loved us. We will miss him tremendously,” Dr. Bartley Griffith, clinical director of the Cardiac Xenotransplantation Program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said in a statement. Griffith had performed the experimental surgery.
Faucette, 58, was first admitted to UMMC on September 14 after experiencing symptoms of heart failure and underwent the experimental transplant six days later. His heart disease and pre-existing conditions made him ineligible for a traditional human heart transplant.
“My only real hope left is to go with the pig heart, the xenotransplant,” Faucette told the hospital in an internal interview several days before the surgery.
“We have no expectations other than hoping for more time together,” his wife, Ann Faucette, said at the time. “That could be as simple as sitting on the front porch and having coffee together.”
In the weeks that immediately followed the transplant, his doctors reported that he was making significant progress, including participating in physical therapy and spending time with this family.
One month after his surgery, his doctors said they believed his heart function was excellent and had withdrawn any drugs to support his heart function.
“We’ve had no evidence of infections and no evidence of rejection right now,” Griffith said at the time.
Doctors had treated Faucette with an experimental antibody treatment to further suppress the immune system and prevent rejection. However organ rejection is “the most significant challenge with traditional transplants involving human organs as well,” said UMMC in a statement.
In a statement regarding her husband’s passing, Ann thanked those involved in her husband’s care at UMMC.
“Larry started this journey with an open mind and complete confidence in Dr. Griffith and his staff. He knew his time with us was short, and this was his last chance to do for others,” she said.
According to the federal government, there are more than 113,000 people on the organ transplant list, including more than 3,300 people in need of a heart. The group Donate Life America says that 17 people die each day waiting for a donor organ.
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In January 2022, the University of Maryland also performed the first such experimental surgery on 57-year-old David Bennett, who died two months following the surgery. While there were no signs of rejection in the initial weeks following the transplant, an autopsy concluded that Bennett ultimately died of heart failure from “a complex array of factors,” including Bennett’s condition prior to the surgery. A case study published in the Lancet also noted there was evidence of pig virus that had not been identified previously.