“This wasn’t a wild whim,” Dr. Roger Hadley, dean of Loma Linda University School of Medicine, said in an interview. “He had worked for years on doing cross-species transplants in animals. We had a whole lab of animals who had somebody else’s heart.”
Dr. Hadley added that the hospital at Loma Linda is faith-based — the hospital and the university are run by the Seventh-day Adventist Church — and said that all its ethicists and theologians had thought that the transplant was the right thing to do.
“We stood by him here,” he said.
By the time Baby Fae came along, it was abundantly clear that transplants could save lives, especially with the use of cyclosporine, a powerful anti-rejection drug that had recently become available. But organ donors were in short supply. Long before Baby Fae, a surgeon had transplanted a chimpanzee heart into a person; the transplant failed. Other surgeons had experimented with transplanting kidneys from chimpanzees into humans. The longest surviving recipient lived nine months, and was well enough to go back to work.
Stephanie’s initial rally after the surgery did not last. Rejection and organ failure set in, and she died on Nov. 15, 1984. She had survived for 21 days.
Her case helped focus concern on the plight of babies born with fatal heart defects, and the desperate need for organs. The next year, Dr. Bailey performed the first successful heart transplant in an infant, from a human donor. He went on to perform 375 more over the course of his career, as well as other types of pediatric heart surgery. He continued operating until 2017.
Because of growing ethical concerns about experimenting on primates, research on using them as a source of organ transplants has mostly been abandoned. But efforts are underway to genetically alter pigs to make their organs compatible with humans.
Leonard Lee Bailey was born on Aug. 28, 1942, in Takoma Park, Md., to Nelson Bailey, a chef, and Catherine (Long) Bailey, a nurse.