Dr. Leonard Bailey, who elicited both admiration and outrage by transplanting the heart of a baboon into a dying infant in 1984, died May 12 at his home in Redlands, California. He was 76.
The cause was neck and throat cancer, his son Brooks said.
Although Bailey went on to pioneer human heart transplants for infants, and to build a renowned center for children’s cardiac surgery at Loma Linda University in Southern California, he remained best known to the public as the doctor behind the wrenching story of the infant known as Baby Fae.
Called Baby Fae at the time to protect her privacy, she was later identified as Stephanie Fae Beauclair. She was born in Barstow, California, on Oct. 14, 1984, with little more than half a heart. She had a fatal birth defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome, in which the main pumping chamber of the heart does not develop. She was quickly transferred to Loma Linda.
At the time, babies with the condition lived only a few weeks, if that long. Surgery to try to repair the defect had poor results. Two infant heart transplants involving other patients had been tried at other hospitals, and failed. Donor hearts were vanishingly rare. A doctor told Stephanie’s mother, Teresa Beauclair, that she could keep her daughter in the hospital until the end or take her home to die.
Beauclair decided to take Stephanie home to Barstow. The doctor gave her a card with the telephone number of the coroner to call when the time came. She was 24, with a 2 1/2-year-old son, and had broken up with the children’s father two weeks before Stephanie’s birth.
Bailey had been away when Stephanie was admitted to Loma Linda, but when he returned, a colleague told him about her, thinking she might be eligible for a procedure that Bailey was studying: transplanting a heart from a young baboon into an infant.