Leonard L Bailey: in 1984 he transplanted a baboon heart into a human infant known as “Baby Fae”BMJ 2019; 366 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l4669 (Published 12 July 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;366:l4669
- Ned Stafford
- Hamburg, Germany
On the morning of 26 October 1984, Leonard L Bailey and his heart transplantation team were gathered around an operating table at Loma Linda University Medical Center in California. They were operating on Stephanie Fae Beauclair, a baby girl who had been born prematurely only 12 days before with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a fatal defect.
Shortly after 9 am—around an hour and 45 minutes into the operation, with Stephanie’ s body temperature lowered to 68°F—Bailey went to the hospital’ s research laboratory, where an anaesthetised 7 month old female baboon awaited. Bailey removed the baboon’s walnut sized heart, placed it in a container of icy saline slush, and returned to the surgical suite.1
“I arrived with the heart,” Bailey recalled in a 2007 interview. “We made the incision, and went to work.”2 Bailey removed Stephanie’s defective heart. After inserting the new heart and connecting it, Stephanie’s chest cavity was closed and her body temperature slowly increased. “We were blessed,” Bailey said. “It just turned out beautifully. Her response to the surgery was just perfect.”2
At 1135 am, Stephanie’s new heart began to beat.
“There was absolute awe,” Sandra Nehlsen-Cannarella, an immunologist on Bailey’s team, said at the time. “I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room.”
The heart transplantation turned out to be one of the most controversial procedures in the history of medicine. News of the transplantation triggered headlines around the world. Animal rights groups were outraged at the “ghoulish tinkering” with human and animal life. Bailey received threatening hate mail. Around 275 journalists, including TV news crews, converged on Loma Linda University.
To protect Stephanie’s privacy, the university identified her only as Baby Fae and declined to name her parents. Only years later were they publicly identified.
The medical community was …