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2nd person to receive pig's heart dies 6 weeks after transplant

Despite extra precautions, 58-year-old Lawrence Faucette lived less time than the first recipient.
2nd person to receive pig's heart dies 6 weeks after transplant
Posted at 10:39 AM, Nov 01, 2023

The second person to receive a pig's heart has died six weeks after the transplant procedure. 

Lawrence Faucette was a 58-year-old patient with terminal heart disease and received a genetically engineered heart on Sept. 20. Despite extra precautions, he lived less time than the first recipient.

Following his surgery, Faucette made significant progress, said his team at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He took part in physical therapy, spent time with family and played cards with his wife Ann. But in recent days, his heart began to show signs of rejection.

One of the most significant challenges of even a traditional heart transplant involving human organs is rejection. This happens when the body registers the organ as a foreign object and begins to attack it. Faucette's team made strong efforts to avoid rejection, but his condition took a turn and he died on Oct. 30. 

"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," Bartley Griffith, the doctor behind 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. He then told the team of doctors and nurses who gathered around him that he loved us. We will miss him tremendously," he said. 

When Faucette arrived at the University of Maryland Medical Center on Sept. 14, he was in end-stage heart failure. His heart stopped and he required resuscitation. 

Because of his advanced medical condition, he was deemed ineligible for a traditional heart transplant. On Sept. 15, the Food and Drug Administration granted an emergency authorization for the genetically modified pig heart transplant in hopes of extending the patient's life.

"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," his wife Ann said in a statement. "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."

SEE MORE: Upcycled organs and pig hearts: where cardiac transplant is headed

The first person to ever receive a genetically modified pig heart was 57-year-old David Bennett, who died last year, two months after his transplant. He developed several complications, and traces of a virus that infects pigs were found in his new heart, according to the Maryland team. 

Researchers and medical staff attempted to provide a better outcome for Faucette with lessons learned from Bennett.

Xenotransplantation — which the FDA defines as any form of implantation or fusion into a human of cells, tissues or organs from a nonhuman animal source — is explored as a way to ease the human organ shortage. 

Currently, over 100,000 men, women and children are on the national organ waiting list, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration. Seventeen people die each day waiting for a transplant.

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