Lawrence Faucette, shown at the University of Maryland Medical Center days before receiving a genetically modified pig heart, has died. Photo courtesy of University of Maryland School of Medicine
Nov. 1 (UPI) — Six weeks after an experimental transplant operation, the second living person to receive a genetically modified pig heart has died, doctors reported Tuesday. Lawrence Faucette was 58.
His heart disease and other pre-existing health 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.
The University of Maryland Medical Center, where the experimental procedure was performed, said a month after the operation that Faucette had been doing well and was showing signs of significant progress, spending time with family and undergoing physical therapy.
His doctors reported his heart function was excellent and they had withdrawn drugs typically used to support heart function.
“We’ve had no evidence of infections and no evidence of rejection right now,” Dr. Bartley Griffith, clinical director of the Cardiac Xenotransplantation Program, who performed the surgery, said then.
But Faucette’s body began to show signs of rejection in recent days and he died Tuesday.
“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.“
Faucette was initially admitted to UMMC on Sept. 14 after experiencing symptoms of heart failure and underwent the modified pig heart transplant six days later.
“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.”
Doctors say organ rejection is the most significant challenge with traditional transplants involving human organs and can be even more prominent with animal-to-human organ transplants like the one Faucette underwent.
Doctors treated Faucette with an experimental antibody to suppress his immune system and attempt to prevent rejection, according to UMMC.
In a statement on her husband’s death, Ann Faucette thanked those involved in his care.
“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.
The University of Maryland also performed the first modified pig heart transplant in 2022. David Bennett, 57, died two months after the experimental procedure.
The hospital reported that there were no signs of organ rejection at the time of his death, but an autopsy eventually determined that Bennett died of heart failure from “a complex array of factors,” including his health condition prior to the surgery.
British medical journal the Lancet also reported that there was evidence of pig virus that had not been identified previously.
There are more than 113,000 people on the organ transplant list, including more than 3,300 people in need of a heart, according to U.S. health and transplant officials. The group Donate Life America says that 17 people die each day waiting for a donor organ.
“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,” Griffith said of Faucette.