Baby Fae and the Baboon Heart: 25 Years Later
In Life by Jeffery , on Monday, October 26, 2009, 10:00 AM (PDT)
A little girl with a big heart.
25 years ago today, little Baby Fae needed an operation in order to stay alive. So doctors made the desperate decision to try something never done before on a human being -- they gave her the heart of a baboon.
The saga began when little Stephanie Fae Beauclair was born with a rare and serious condition called hypoplastic left heart syndrome, which is a congenital defect where the left side of the heart is severely underdeveloped. Nicknamed Baby Fae, the little one had virtually no chance of surviving.
Research into organ transplants had been making progress, but xenotransplantation (moving organs from one species to another) on humans had never been tried before. Still, researchers believed Baby Fae to be an ideal candidate for the revolutionary procedure.
So, led by Dr. Leonard Bailey and his transplant team, a heart from a baboon was given to little Baby Fae.
For 21 days she survived, and at first she was actually awake and eating, but soon her body began to reject her new heart, and she finally succumbed to kidney failure a day after turning one month old.
Today, Baby Fae's legacy lives on. More than 500 people have received heart transplants at Fae's hospital, Loma Linda University Medical Center in California. And research continues on how to make it easier to save lives. No one feels this more strongly than Dr. Bailey.
"The bottom line is Baby Fae's legacy is a strong one - there have been several thousand babies salvaged now who would not (have made it) otherwise," said Dr. Bailey. "I think she sent word around the world that people should think about newborns, too."