2009 News Archives
Special program held on 25th anniversary of historic surgery
During the Loma Linda University School of Medicine celebration of its 100th anniversary, a special program took place on October 31, 2009, at the Loma Linda University Church to honor the legacy of Baby Fae, as well as to recognize the miracle of heart transplantation that has given nearly 500 infants a chance at life at Loma Linda University Children's Hospital.
As part of the event, a half-hour version of a two-hour documentary, "Stephanie's Heart," premiered. This documentary follows the story through the eyes of Teresa Beauclair, Baby Fae's mother (to see a trailer of the documentary and for more information about Baby Fae, please go to www.babyfae.com).
Following the video presentation, Leonard Bailey, MD, chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Loma Linda Children's Hospital and the surgeon who performed the historic heart transplantation of a baboon heart into the Baby Fae, interviewed Ms. Beauclair. A third portion of the program involved heart transplant kids, some of whom were interviewed as well.
The baby's real name is Stephanie Fae Beauclair. She shared her middle name, Fae, with her mother and grandmother. Because the young mother, Ms. Beauclair, wished to remain anonymous, her tiny infant, born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome—a fatal heart defect—was known to the world simply as Baby Fae.
Stephanie Fae was born on October 14, 1984. "I knew something was wrong when they whisked her out the room," Ms. Beauclair recalls. She had started bleeding the night before and came into Barstow Community Hospital, located in the city of Barstow, California. Stephanie Fae was born prematurely the next morning.
The doctors in Barstow sent Stephanie Fae by ambulance to Loma Linda University Medical Center. Later, after Teresa had met with the doctors in Loma Linda, she was handed a card with the local coroner's name and phone number, and given three options: She could leave Stephanie Fae at Loma Linda to die; she could take her little girl back to Barstow Community Hospital to die; or she could take her home to die.
After spending several days in a Barstow hotel, Ms. Beauclair came to a conclusion. "I believed that Stephanie had the right to die in her own home," Teresa explains. "However, the time in the hotel gave me an opportunity to bond with her."
In 1984, Dr. Bailey was one of a handful of physician researchers interested in saving infants born with fatal heart defects. He chose to complete his residency at a facility specializing in heart transplantation in the hopes of applying that knowledge to saving these doomed infants.
Returning to Loma Linda following residency, he began research on cross-species heart transplantation, largely because no human infant donors were being sought by the organ procurement agencies. He and his research associates transplanted infant sheep hearts into infant goats with amazing success. The transplanted goats would thrive for quite a while before their bodies would reject the donor heart.
The discovery of cyclosporin changed the research outcome for Dr. Bailey, allowing the baby goats to grow into healthy adults, have offspring of their own, and live full lives. Dr. Bailey firmly believed that cyclosporin, adrug that suppresses the body's immune response, would revolutionize organ transplantation. He suggested that cross-species heart transplantation could be used to save the lives of the many infants dying of hypoplastic left heart syndrome and other fatal heart defects.
The paths of Dr. Bailey and Teresa Beauclair crossed at an opportune time. Though out of the country at the time of Baby Fae's initial visit to Loma Linda, Dr. Bailey learned about her as soon as he returned. Ms. Beauclair was immediately contacted and invited to meet with Dr. Bailey and hear about his research. After their meeting, she began an intense and lengthy process of deciding whether to go ahead, signing a series of releases at each step.
The historic surgery took place on October 26, 1984. News of the surgery captivated the world and a media frenzy ensued. Stephanie Fae not only survived the surgery, but thrived for more than two weeks. Then, for reasons that remain a mystery to this day, she began to deteriorate. One by one, her essential organs shut down until, on November 16, 1984, she succumbed and passed away.
The impact of her death was felt around the world. Nearly every media organization in the United States, as well as many foreign news outlets, closely followed the story from her historic surgery and miraculous recovery to her death. Soon after Stephanie Fae's death, her mother spoke with Dr. Bailey and asked him to carry on with his research. "I asked him not to let Stephanie Fae's life be wasted," she remembers.
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 lives in Las Vegas, leads an active life, and holds the distinction of being the longest living heart transplant recipient.
With news of Eddie's successful heart transplant, organ procurement agencies began to realize the need for infant hearts and other organs for this previously overlooked segment of the population. Though not every infant to receive a heart is still alive today, a vast majority are growing into young adults and contributing to society in special ways.
Their lives are part of Baby Fae's lasting legacy.