Little Bits of History

Baby Fae

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 26, 2014
Baby Fae

Baby Fae

October 26, 1984: Stephanie Fae Beauclair undergoes surgery. She was born on October 14 and diagnosed with hypoplastic left heart syndrome. This is a rare congenital defect in which the left ventricle (main chamber of the heart) is severely underdeveloped. Usually, both the aorta (main artery carrying blood to the heart) and the ventricle are too small and the aortic and mitral valves (muscular “doors” between the vessels and chambers of the heart) are too small to permit sufficient blood flow. Usually, there is also an defect between the right and left ventricles allowing the freshly oxygenated blood to mix with blood returning from the body. Without surgical intervention, the condition is fatal. One of the options is a full heart transplant.

Leonard L. Bailey at the Loma Linda University Medical Center opted for a full heart transplant. The difference with this one was that the donor was a baboon rather than another human. Baby Fae survived the operation itself but died 21 days later of heart failure due to rejection of the transplant. Baby Fae was type O blood. Most baboons are type AB blood with only about 1% of them having type O. There were seven young, female baboons which could have been used for the transplant and all of them were type AB. It was hoped that a second graft would be available for Baby Fae before her body rejected the baboon heart. A suitable donor could not be found in time.

Xenotransplants are living cells transplanted from one species to another. These can either be simply cells or tissues or entire organs. They are called xenografts from the Greek for foreign – xenos. Allografts or allotransplants refer to same species transplants and was the hoped for treatment for Baby Fae. Human xenografts are sometimes used as a potential treatment for end-stage organ failure but there are many medical, legal, and ethical issues involved. One of the issues is that most animals have shorter life spans than humans and so their organs age more quickly than human organs do. There is also the possibility of transferring a disease along with the tissue. There have been few successful cases of xenografts.

Baby Fae was the first human to receive a xenotransplant. The case has been used often since this time as a study of medical ethics. Bailey did not look for a human heart for Baby Fae. Were the parents able to make the judgment call to offer up their daughter for an experimental procedure? There is some question as to whether or not the parents were adequately informed of the risks and consequences. Since it was the first time the procedure was done, did anyone actually completely understand the risks and consequences? The parents were uninsured and could not afford to pay for a regular heart transplant and the xenograft was offered for free – how much did this influence their decision?

Er, I find that difficult to answer. You see, I don’t believe in evolution. – Leonard Bailey, when asked why he chose a baboon’s heart rather than a more closely related primate

The placing of a baboon heart into the chest of little Baby Fae caused indignation in many quarters. For some, who might safely be called eccentric, the concern was animal rights.  – Charles Krauthammer

At Loma Linda, doctors told the mother that Fae would soon die; she was kept overnight in the hospital and then released. The mother had Fae baptized and took her to a motel to wait for her to die. – Gregory Pence

Within a year, Dr. Bailey performed the first infant-to-infant heart transplantation on Baby Moses, whose actual name is Eddie. Now 24 years old, Eddie holds the distinction of being the oldest living infant heart transplant recipient. – from Loma Linda University

Also on this day: Tombstone, Arizona – In 1881, the gunfight at the OK Corral took place.
Whoa! – In 1861, Pony Express service officially ended.
Cloud of Death – In 1948, Donora, Pennsylvania was shrouded in a toxic fog.
Outnumbered – In 1597, the battle of Myeongnyang was fought.