published : 2023-09-23

University of Maryland surgeons perform second pig heart transplant in attempt to save dying man

Scientists have genetically modified pigs to make their organs more human-like for such transplants

A surgeon from University of Maryland Medicine performing a pig heart transplant, capturing the groundbreaking moment of medical intervention. [Taken with Nikon D850]

Surgeons at the University of Maryland have successfully carried out a groundbreaking pig heart transplant in a desperate attempt to save the life of a dying man.

This remarkable feat marks only the second time in history that such a procedure has been performed.

The patient, a 58-year-old Navy veteran, was facing almost certain death from heart failure, but unfortunately, he was not eligible for a traditional human heart transplant due to other health complications.

Led by the talented team of doctors at the University of Maryland Medicine, this daring medical intervention has breathed new hope into the veteran's life.

Just two days after the surgery, the patient showed significant signs of improvement, regaining enough strength to crack jokes and even sit in a chair, much to the amazement of his medical team.

Dr. Bartley Griffith, the skilled surgeon who performed this unprecedented transplant, expressed his awe and gratefulness for this opportunity to make medical history.

"You know, I just keep shaking my head – how am I talking to someone who has a pig heart?" said Dr. Griffith in a statement to The Associated Press.

While the doctors feel a tremendous privilege to embark on this revolutionary journey, they also acknowledge the immense pressure that accompanies such groundbreaking medical endeavors.

The University of Maryland team achieved a similar feat last year when they performed the first-ever transplant of a genetically modified pig heart into a dying man named David Bennett.

Despite Bennett's unfortunate passing after two months, the valuable knowledge gained from his case has paved the way for this recent breakthrough.

Lawrence Faucette, the Navy veteran who received the pig heart transplant, sitting in a chair and sharing a light-hearted moment with his medical team. [Taken with Canon EOS R]

The current patient, Lawrence Faucette, was aware of the risks involved but believed his chances of survival were significantly increased through this pig heart transplant.

"Nobody knows from this point forward. At least now I have hope and I have a chance," Faucette expressed in a heartfelt video recorded by the hospital prior to the operation.

His wife, Ann Faucette, shared their modest hopes of merely having more time together, cherishing even the simplest moments.

The scarcity of available human organs for transplantation is a pressing issue in the medical field, with only a limited number of patients with the highest chances of long-term survival receiving this life-saving opportunity.

Decades of attempts to perform animal-to-human organ transplants have been met with little success, mainly due to the immediate rejection of foreign tissue by human immune systems.

However, scientists have now genetically modified pigs to create organs that possess human-like characteristics, opening up new possibilities for organ transplantation.

The University of Maryland surgeons have played a vital role in advancing this field, with their ingenious approach offering a glimmer of hope to many awaiting life-saving transplants.

While pigs have previously been used for experimental xenotransplants, the University of Maryland's innovative technique bypassed the need for a formal trial by obtaining special permission from the Food and Drug Administration.

This permission was granted based on the researchers' extensive paperwork, which highlighted the lessons learned from their previous attempt, despite the unfortunate outcome of the patient in that case.

Improvements made since the first transplant include the development of more effective tests for hidden viruses that may be present in the pig organs, as well as a better understanding of the medications to avoid in the process.

Dr. Bartley Griffith, the skilled surgeon who performed the second pig heart transplant, expressing awe and gratitude for the opportunity to make medical history. [Taken with Sony Alpha A7 III]

Crucially, Lawrence Faucette's condition, although critical, was not as dire as the previous patient's, offering a glimmer of hope for his successful recovery.

As of Friday, the transplanted pig heart was functioning well without the need for any additional support.

Dr. Muhammad Mohiuddin, the team's renowned xenotransplantation expert, expressed his sheer amazement at witnessing a pig heart working in a human body.

He emphasized the cautious approach taken by the team, not wanting to make any premature predictions.

"We will take every day as a victory and move forward," said Dr. Mohiuddin.

The pig heart used in this monumental surgery was generously provided by Revivicor, a Virginia-based organization specializing in breeding pigs with 10 specific genetic modifications.

These modifications involve removing certain pig genes while introducing selected human genes, making the organs more compatible with the human immune system.

With every breakthrough, the medical community inches closer to overcoming the critical shortage of organs available for transplantation.

This extraordinary accomplishment by the University of Maryland surgeons not only offers a glimmer of hope to countless patients in desperate need but also underscores the power of human determination and scientific innovation.

It is in these moments of triumph that we are reminded of the unwavering resilience of the human spirit in the face of overwhelming challenges.