Do you know any kids who had a heart transplant as an infant? You may not, but in the past 25 years Loma Linda University Medical Center in California has reported 500 successful cases of pediatric heart transplants. One of those kids is even now in medical school. “Baby Fae” helped make all this possible.

It was 25 years ago when Teresa Beauclair visited Loma Linda with her infant daughter, Stephanie. Stephanie suffered from
hypoplastic left heart syndrome, which means her heart was underdeveloped on the left side. In absence of an available donor heart from another human, Beauclair decided to allow an experimental surgery to take place. This surgery would put a baboon heart into
the human baby. It was very controversial with people in the medical field not in agreement with the transplant decision. Animal rights groups protested also, believing the procedure to be “ghoulish tinkering.” Beauclair and the doctors nicknamed Stephanie “Baby Fae,” to protect her and her family (Fae was the baby’s middle name).

Leonard Bailey, M.D., who is now 66 and still working in Loma Linda, did the surgery. Baby Fae lived for 21 days, two weeks longer than any other previous baboon heart transplant recipient.

The days of cross-species organ transplants are gone because of controversies over possible infections. But 25 years ago that baboon-to-human heart transplant paved the way for the world’s first successful human-to-human heart transplant in an infant a year later.
Today, as more is known about complex heart diseases, more infants can have their hearts surgically reconstructed instead of having to undergo a transplant, says Bailey.

—This article was adapted and modified from the December 20. 2009, Adventist Review news article “25 Years Later, LLUMC Surgeon Bailey Reflects on ‘Baby Fae’ Case.”