An American infant named Baby Fae was born with hypoplastic left-heart syndrome and had received a baboon heart, died on this day in 1984, at the Loma Linda University Medical Center in Loma Linda, California. She became the first human to receive a successful heart transplant of an animal and the first to live longer than any other human who was recipient of an animal transplant.
Stephanie Fae Beauclair, called "Baby Fae" to protect the identity of her parents, was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome (a rare inborn heart defect in which the left heart is severely underdeveloped or missing). The heart defect was discovered a few days after the birth of Baby Fae, this made Dr. Leonard L. Bailey chief heart surgeon persuade her mother to agree in trying the experimental baboon-heart transfer on the child. The animal-heart transplant had already been carried out on three humans in the past, with the last recorded in 1977, but none of the recipient had lived longer than three and half days. Dr. Bailey argued that the reason why the procedure failed on the first three humans is that they were all grown-ups. He explained that trying the heart transplant on an infant whose immune system is not fully developed is less likely to reject the animal transplant compared to an adult whose immune system has developed.
Following the consent of Baby Fae's parent, Dr. Bailey and his team in Loma Linda University Medical Center carried out the world's first baboon-to-human heart transfer on October 26, by replacing the baby's defective heart with that of a healthy baboon. The operation was a major breakthrough for both the surgical team and the medical field in general, and the child's struggle for life after the operation received great publicity.
The successful operation made her the first human to survive for a longer period than any other person who had received an animal heart. Twenty days later, Baby Fae's body began to reject the new heart transplant and effort were made by doctors to safe her by increasing the dosages of an immune-suppressive drug, which eventually led to her kidney failure. Unfortunately, Baby Fae died on November 15, of heart failure after living for 20 days.
A year later, Dr. Bailey successfully performed its first allograft heart transplant. However, Baby Fae's case became subjected to ethical and legal debate, while the American Medical association and some medical journals criticize Bailey, emphasizing that Bailey should have looked for another human heart for the transplant and such a procedure should be carried out as part of a systematic research program. In addition, Baby Fae's full name was not disclosed during the procedure until her mother decided to make it public herself in 1997.