As he works hard to recover, Lawrence Faucette maintains his dream of soon returning home one month after he became the second person to receive the transplanted heart of a pig.
Though highly-experimental, the procedure was seemingly the 58-year-old man’s last hope to extend his life after health problems made him ineligible for a traditional heart transplant. But so far, his doctors at the University of Maryland School of Medicine say Faucette’s new heart is functioning well and showing no signs of rejection.
The hospital released video Friday providing the first glimpse of Faucette’s recovery since the Sept. 20 transplant. In the video, Faucette is shown examining biopsy results and undergoing physical therapy, including a pedaling exercise to improve his leg strength.
When his physical therapist, Chris Wells, reminds him to keep smiling, Faucette laughs and says, “That’s going to be tough but I’ll work it out.”
Faking cancer:Iowa woman who faked cancer and received donations avoids jail, must pay restitution
‘Grateful to be alive’
Without the experimental surgery, Faucette’s physicians say the Maryland man would have died from heart disease.
The procedure was led by Dr. Bartley P. Griffith, the Maryland team’s cardiac xenotransplantation clinical director, along with dozens of specialists, scientists and nurses.
“He’s grateful to be alive,” Griffith said in a video posted on YouTube by the hospital two days after the procedure. “You wake up after an experimental procedure and you see the lights on the ceiling and then your loved ones around you, that’s good news.”
A married father of two, Faucette said in September video that he was looking forward to the prospect of spending more time with him family. Weeks later, he continues his recovery at the hospital, where he is focused on physical therapy to regain his strength.
“Larry is a remarkable patient,” Griffith said in the recent video. “He’s joyful, he’s embracing his life, however extended it might be.”
A 20-year Navy veteran, Faucette most recently worked as a lab technician at the National Institutes of Health before his retirement. Physicians say he is breathing on his own and his heart is functioning without assistance from supportive devices.
“Nobody knows from this point forward,” Faucette said in the September video. “We’re going to do the best we can; at least now I have hope and I have a chance.”
World’s oldest dog:Bobi, known as the world’s oldest dog ever, dies at age 31
Scientists hope animal organ donors will save lives
Faucette’s surgery was the latest high-profile attempt to transplant an animal organ into a human, a procedure called a xenotransplant.
Many scientists hope that using animals as donors could one day compensate for the huge shortage of human organ donations. More than 100,000 Americans are on the nation’s list for a transplant, and more than 6,000 die every year before they’re able to get one.
Strides have been made, including earlier this month when a Massachusetts-based company announced that it had kept a monkey alive for two years with a pig kidney, the longest an animal has survived with an organ from a different animal.
But xenotransplants have been notoriously ineffective for decades because human immune systems tend to immediately destroy the foreign tissue. However, scientists have found recent successes using the genetically modified organs of pigs to make the organs more humanlike.
“We’re still on the precipice of potentially a really important therapy,” Griffith said. “But it’s yet to prove itself.”
The procedure was developed by Dr. Muhammad M. Mohiuddin, the Maryland team’s cardiac xenotransplantation chief.
Last year, another man in poor health named David Bennett became the first person to receive a heart from a genetically altered pig. That procedure, which was also performed at the Maryland hospital, extended Bennett’s life by two months before he died.
Signs of a pig virus later were found inside the organ, and University of Maryland doctors said improvements in virus testing should give Faucette a better chance to survive longer.
“My next step at that point would be to be deemed healthy enough to go home at some point, that would be the first miracle,” Faucette said. “Second miracle would be a month later, six months later, a year later — I’ll take whatever I can get at that point.”
Contributing: Karen Weintraub
Eric Lagatta covers breaking and trending news for USA TODAY. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org