Many of you may recognize this story as it took the world by storm in the 1980s, making headlines across news sources everywhere. The video below is actually a trailer for the award-winning documentary Stephanie’s Heart: The Story of Baby Fae. The documentary takes an in-depth look at the many people and events surrounding Baby Fae and the highly experimental procedure she underwent in order to live. The film is most unique because it tells the story primarily from the perspective of Baby Fae’s mother, Teresa Beauclair, who chose to remain anonymous during the hype of Baby Fae in the 1980’s.
Let’s take it back a little. Stephanie Fae Beauclair, now commonly known as Baby Fae, was born in October of 1984 with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a birth defect that inhibits regular blood flow throughout the heart. Doctors told Teresa that there was nothing they could do for her child, and then gave her three options in which she could let her baby die. Devastated and shocked, Teresa decided to take Baby Fae home so that she could pass within the comfort of her own home as opposed to a hospital.
Then, Teresa received a phone call that proved to be utterly paramount. Loma Linda University Medical Center contacted Teresa to inform her of an experimental procedure that could have the potential to save her baby’s life, a procedure that would be spearheaded by Dr. Leonard Bailey, a cardio-thoracic surgeon. The procedure doctors proposed was to conduct a xenotransplant via a primate. In other words, Baby Fae was going to receive a heart from a baboon.
Baby Fae became the first infant to undergo a primate-to-human transplant, and it sparked a monumental wave of controversy, debate, and backlash over the topic of animal experimentation. Amongst the tumult of the impassioned dialogues came much excitement for what a procedure like this could mean for the developing medical world.
On October 26, 1984, the world watched in awe as the heart of a baboon was successfully transplanted into Baby Fae, giving her what seemed a healthy heart that would grow and mature as she did. The Loma Linda University (LLU) website explains that following the surgery, Baby Fae thrived. However, this only lasted for a few weeks. To the world’s great sadness, Baby Fae’s body gradually began to shut down and she eventually passed away on November 16, 1984. LLU claims that the reasons behind this failure still remain unknown.
The story of Baby Fae has made medical history and will never be forgotten. Do you remember hearing about this story in the 1980’s? What impact did it have on you?