Lawrence Faucette, the second person to have received a transplanted heart from a pig, has died.
The 58-year-old from Frederick, Maryland, was first admitted to the University of Maryland Medical Center in September, after experiencing heart failure symptoms. Due to his pre-existing heart disease and other conditions, he was not eligible for a traditional heart transplant.
After consulting with his doctors, he agreed to go with a xenotransplant – an experimental procedure in which surgeons transfer the heart of a pig into a human body. In an internal interview with the hospital, Faucette said it was “[his] only real hope left.”
His wife Ann agreed, saying that they could only hope for more time together.
In the weeks following the transplant, Faucette made significant progress. He was able to breathe on his own and his new heart was able to function properly without the help of supportive devices. He later began to participate in physical therapy and spent time with his family.
In addition to anti-rejection medications, he was also given an experimental antibody treatment to further suppress the immune system, in hopes of preventing rejection.
Despite the initial improvement, the transplanted heart eventually began to show signs of rejection in late October.
Faucette’s last wish was “for his team of doctors to make the most of what [they] learned from [their] experience” so that they would be able to help others in the future who require a new heart when a human organ is not available. He also expressed his love and gratitude to Dr. Bartley Griffith, the director of the Cardiac Xenotransplantation Program, who performed the experimental procedure.
His wife Ann also thanked the team at UMMC for the care that they received.
According to the U.S. government, over 113,000 people are on the organ transplant list, more than 3,300 of whom are waiting for a heart. Tragically, 17 people lose their lives every day waiting for a suitable organ.
In early 2022, the UMMC team performed the first genetically modified pig heart transplant surgery on David Bennet, a 57-year-old man who had previously been hospitalized for a potentially fatal arrhythmia. He was in stage four heart failure and was not eligible for a traditional human heart transplant.
Despite promising results, he eventually died two months later. Autopsy results showed that there was no evidence of rejection, but that the heart muscle had stiffened and thicked, preventing it from relaxing and filling with blood.
According to the doctors at the University of Maryland Medicine, the organ may have failed after one of the anti-rejection medications damaged the heart muscle. The organ was also discovered to contain trace amounts of a latent pig virus, that was first detected a few weeks after surgery. It was later confirmed during the autopsy process.
Dr. Mohiuddin, the Cardiac xenotransplant chief at UMMC, says he and his team will be analyzing what happened to Faucette’s heart as they continue to study and work with pig organs. Their hope is that one day, xenotransplants will be able to make up for the significant shortage of human organ donations.