Tuesday 26 September 2023

World holds its breath as second dying man is given a pig's heart


A 58-year-old man with terminal heart disease has gone under the knife, becoming the second patient to ever receive a pig heart in a complicated, high-risk xenotransplant. Lawrence Faucette was ineligible for a human heart due to pre-existing peripheral vascular disease and complications with internal bleeding.

The surgery was performed on September 20 by specialists at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) faculty at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), where the very first operation of its kind took place on January 7, 2022. That historic xenotransplant, however, did not have a happy ending; the recipient, 57-year-old David Bennett, died two months later, not through organ rejection but, what a UMSOM study deemed to be "a complex array of factors."

Faucette is currently recovering, and his new heart is functioning as it should, without any assistance.

"We have no expectations other than hoping for more time together," said his wife, Ann. "That could be as simple as sitting on the front porch and having coffee together."

Some 110,000 Americans are on the waiting list for a new organ, and more than 6,000 die each year before they get their second chance. Xenotransplants are shaping up as the most likely viable, sustainable solution to help meet the demand for organs. Surgeons have so far transplanted pig kidneys and skin cells to treat burn victims, and scientists are forging ahead with research into transplanting pig lungs and livers.

However, xenotransplantation comes with serious risks, such as transmitting unknown deadly pathogens hidden in otherwise healthy hearts, triggering a dangerous immune responses and, of course, rapid and fatal organ rejection.

But for patients with end-stage organ failure, the opportunity far outweighs the risks.

“We are once again offering a dying patient a shot at a longer life, and we are incredibly grateful to Mr Faucette for his bravery and willingness to help advance our knowledge of this field,” said Dr Bartley P. Griffith, who has performed both pig heart transplants. “We are hopeful that he will get home soon to enjoy more time with his wife and the rest of his loving family.”

Faucette, who beforehand said his last hope was "to go with the pig heart," had the surgery approved by the Food and Drug Administration under its "compassionate use" clause. This case-by-case approval is for dire, terminal surgeries in which experimental treatment is the only potentially life-saving or extending avenue for the patient.

"Nobody knows from this point forward," Faucette said. "At least now I have hope, and I have a chance."

Source: University of Maryland School of Medicine/NewAtlas

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