Lawrence Fawcett, the second person to receive a genetically modified pig heart in a transplant, died six weeks after the experimental procedure.
The University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), where the experimental procedure was performed, said the heart began to show signs of rejection in recent days. “Mr Fawcett’s last wish was that we make the most of what we have learned from our experience so that others can have the guarantee of a new heart when a human organ is not available. He then told the team of doctors and nurses gathered around him that he loved us. He will be greatly missed,” said Dr. Bartley Griffith, clinical director of the Cardiac Xenotransplantation Program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Fawcett, 58, was first admitted to UMMC on Sept. 14 after experiencing symptoms of heart failure and underwent an experimental transplant six days later. His heart disease and pre-existing conditions made him unsuitable to be a human heart recipient.
“My only real hope left is to go with the pig heart, the xenotransplant,” Fawcett had said at the hospital in an internal interview several days before the surgery. “We have no expectations other than to hope for more time together,” his wife, Ann, said at the time. “It could be as simple as sitting on the front porch and drinking coffee together.” In the weeks immediately following the transplant, his doctors reported that Fawcett was making significant progress, starting physical therapy and spending time with his family.
A month after the operation, doctors told him they believed his heart function was excellent and had withdrawn medication to support his heart function. “We have no evidence of infections and no evidence of rejection at this time,” Griffiths said at the time.
Doctors proceeded with an experimental antibody treatment to further suppress the immune system and prevent rejection. However, organ rejection is “the most significant challenge with traditional transplants involving human organs,” UMMC said in a statement.
For her part, his wife Fawcett thanked those involved in his care at UMMC. “Larry began this journey with an open mind and complete trust in Dr. Griffiths and his staff. He knew his time with us was short and this was his last chance to do something for others,” she said.
According to the US federal government, more than 113,000 people are on the organ transplant list, including more than 3,300 people who need a heart. The group Donate Life America claims that 17 people die every day waiting for a donor organ.
The first pig-to-human heart transplant
In January 2022, the University of Maryland performed the first such experimental operation on 57-year-old David Bennett, who died two months after the operation. Although there were no signs of rejection in the first weeks after the transplant, an autopsy concluded that Bennett ultimately died of heart failure from “a complex series of factors,” including the patient’s condition before surgery. Also, a study published in the Lancet noted that there were indications that the pig carried a virus that had not been detected before.