LOMA LINDA, CA – Today is the 25th anniversary of the first cross-species heart transplant.
Stephanie Fae Beauclair was born on October 14, 1984 with a fatal condition called hypoplastic left heart syndrome, where the left side of the heart is severely underdeveloped. She was not expected to last long.
Dr. Leonard Bailey of the Loma Lina University Medical Center had been doing years of research on heart transplantation from animals. It was believed infants had a much lower rate of rejection due to their naive immune system.
Bailey decided on trying a baboon heart first, as baboon and human DNA matches by 80 percent.
Fae’s mother, Teresa, with no other options left, allowed the surgery to go ahead. She chose anonymity at the time, as some members of the public were disapproving of the process.
On the morning of October 26, “Baby Fae” received the baboon heart. Surprisingly, Fae did very well after a few days of recuperation, going off her ventilator and being able to eat. News quickly spread of the unorthodox surgery, bringing both media and protesters with it.
But soon, her organs began to fail, and within a couple days, she had died. Said Bailey, “The last thing that gave up on her her last day of life was her heart.”
The picketing and protests outside quickly gave way to a flood of cards and flowers into the medical unit.
Although Teresa asked the doctors to continue their research, Baby Fae would be the first and last human to receive a cross-species heart transplant.
The following year, Bailey transplanted a human heart into “Baby Moses”. He is still living today, and will turn 24 next month.