Lawrence Faucette, 58, was the second person in history to undergo the groundbreaking procedure, known as xenotransplantation
Lawrence Faucette, a 58-year-old man from Maryland, has died nearly six weeks after receiving a groundbreaking pig heart transplant at the University of Maryland Medical Center. The experimental procedure, known as xenotransplantation, involved transplanting a genetically modified pig heart into Mr. Faucette, who was ineligible for a traditional heart transplant due to his heart failure and other pre-existing conditions.
The transplant, which took place on September 20th, initially appeared to be successful, with the heart functioning well for the first month. However, in recent days, signs of rejection began to appear, leading to Mr. Faucette’s death on Monday.
In a statement released by the hospital, Mr. Faucette’s wife, Ann, said, “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. He never imagined he would survive as long as he did.”
The world’s first pig heart transplant was performed by the same team at the University of Maryland last year. The recipient, David Bennett, survived for two months before his heart failed. An autopsy revealed signs of a pig virus inside the organ, which led to changes in the transplant procedure, including improved virus testing.
Dr. Bartley Griffith, the surgeon who led the transplant, said in a statement, “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.”
Attempts at animal-to-human organ transplants have a long history of failure, with recipients’ immune systems often immediately destroying the foreign tissue. Now, scientists are using genetically modified pigs in an effort to make their organs more compatible with human bodies. Many researchers hope that xenotransplants could one day help address the critical shortage of human organ donations.
According to the federal government, there are more than 113,000 people on the organ transplant list in the United States, including over 3,300 in need of a heart. The group Donate Life America reports that 17 people die each day while waiting for a donor organ.
Mr. Faucette, a Navy veteran and father of two, had been turned down for a traditional heart transplant before opting for the experimental procedure. In the weeks following the transplant, he had been able to stand and had even begun physical therapy in an attempt to regain the strength needed to walk.
In addition to analyzing what went wrong with Mr. Faucette’s heart, the team at the University of Maryland Medical Center will continue to study pig organs in the hope of one day making xenotransplants a viable option for those in need of a transplant.