“We’re going to do the best we can,” he said in a video posted by the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “Now at least I have hope. And now I have a chance.”
Faucette died Monday, nearly six weeks after the surgery, becoming the second patient to die after receiving a genetically modified pig heart, medical school officials announced Tuesday.
While Faucette had shown significant progress in the weeks after his Sept. 20 surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) in Baltimore, the Maryland man’s new heart had shown “initial signs of rejection” in recent days, which is “the most significant challenge with traditional transplants involving human organs as well,” the medical school said in a news release.
“We mourn the loss of Mr. Faucette, a remarkable patient, scientist, Navy veteran, and family man who just wanted a little more time to spend with his loving wife, sons, and family,” said Bartley P. Griffith, the surgeon who performed the pig heart transplant at the medical center in Baltimore.
Ann Faucette, his wife, said in a statement that her husband had “an open mind and complete confidence” in the doctors handling the procedure.
“He knew his time with us was short, and this was his last chance to do for others,” she said. “He never imagined he would survive as long as he did, or provide as much data to the xenotransplant program. He was a man who was always thinking of others, especially myself and his two sons.”
The announcement of Lawrence Faucette’s death comes about 19 months after David Bennett Sr., the first person in the world to receive a genetically modified pig’s heart, died in March 2022. Bennett, 57, died two months after his groundbreaking January 2022 surgery. Bennett developed multiple complications, according to the UMMC, which also performed his surgery. Traces of a virus that infects pigs were also found in his new heart.
Patient who received a genetically modified pig’s heart has died, hospital says
Faucette’s death is another setback for the accelerating field of xenotransplantation — the process of implanting organs from one species into another. Doctors hope the use of organs from genetically altered animals can address the shortage of organs available for transplant. More than 100,000 patients are on the national transplant waiting list, and an average of 17 of them die every day awaiting donor organs.
Recent advances, such as the surgeries involving Faucette and Bennett, have been made possible by new technologies. They include CRISPR, the gene-editing tool that was recognized with a Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2020. The organs are modified to make them less foreign to the human recipient, reducing the chance they will be rejected.
But attempts at animal-to-human organ transplants have repeatedly failed for decades, often due to people’s immune systems immediately destroying the foreign tissue introduced into their bodies, according to the Associated Press.
Faucette, of Frederick, Md., said that he was in end-stage heart failure when he was admitted to the UMMC on Sept. 14. His heart stopped shortly before the surgery, and he had to be resuscitated, he said.
“We are now down to my only real hope left, [which] is to go with the pig heart,” Faucette said.
Ann Faucette said in September that she had “no expectations, other than hoping for more time together.”
“That could be as simple as sitting on the front porch and having coffee together — the simple things you don’t think about when everything is going well,” she said.
Lawrence Faucette thought it would be a miracle if he was able to go home after the surgery. The next miracle, he said, would be to be alive for a month, six months, a year: “I’ll take whatever I can get at that point.”
A month after the surgery, Faucette’s doctors in October said the pig heart had shown no sign of rejection. Officials said Faucette was able to stand, spend time with his family and play cards with his wife during his recovery at the hospital.
But Faucette’s condition took a turn in late October when his body started to reject the pig heart. Days later, he was dead.
His medical team offered condolences to his family, and thanked him for giving them valuable insight into advancing the study of xenotransplants.
“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,” Griffith said. “He then told the team of doctors and nurses who gathered around him that he loved us. We will miss him tremendously.”
Muhammad M. Mohiuddin, a professor of surgery and the scientific program director of the cardiac xenotransplantation program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, added that Faucette “not only read and interpreted his own biopsies but he understood the important contribution he was making in advancing this field.”
“As with the first patient, David Bennett Sr., we intend to conduct an extensive analysis to identify factors that can be prevented in future transplants; this will allow us to continue to move forward and educate our colleagues in the field on our experience,” Mohiuddin said.
Until the end, Faucette was thinking of others, his wife said. On his last night, Faucette was worried about his sister and whether she had slept, his wife said.
“Larry’s family continues to be in awe of the man that he was and how he has shaped our lives,” she said. “He can never be forgotten.”
Months before his death, Faucette reiterated that he was going forward with the pig heart transplant because he needed some time — any time — with his family.
“I will fight tooth and nail for every breath I can to stay with all of them longer,” he said. “But realistically, this is still an early-stage learning process, and I have to be ready to accept whatever outcome we end up at.”
Frances Stead Sellers contributed to this report.