To Be Human Is To Be Hopeful.

Dr. Leonard L. Bailey elicited admiration and outrage by transplanting the heart of a baboon into dying infant Stephanie Fae Beauclair in 1984 (Bailey died on May 12 at his home in Redlands, Calif, from cancer. He was 76).

Dr. 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. 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 children heart transplants over the course of his career, as well as other types of pediatric heart surgery. He continued operating until 2017.

Stephanie had a fatal birth defect, 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, at most. 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.

I knew she was going to die, and I had to try,” Ms. Beauclair said in a telephone interview. “If I hadn’t tried, I always would have wondered, could we have saved her? Until you’re faced with that, you don’t know what you’ll do.”Dr. Bailey emphasized that the operation would be highly experimental.

But somebody has to be first somewhere at some point,” said Stephanie’s mom.

We hoped, therefore we are. Life is hope.

Dr. Bailey had six young baboons, and he conducted various tests to identify one with tissue that seemed most immunologically compatible with Stephanie’s. But the animals’ blood type did not match the infant’s — something that Dr. Bailey later calleda tactical error with catastrophic consequences.”


New York Times:

The operation took place on Oct. 26, 1984. At first, Stephanie seemed to thrive. During a news conference at the hospital, Dr. Bailey was ebullient, describing her as a “beautiful, healthy baby” whose transplanted heart was doing “everything it should.”

Animal rights groups said killing the baboon was immoral and held demonstrations outside the hospital and Dr. Bailey’s home. He and the hospital received threats.

“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.


Dr. Bailey had to try, because, in his well-considered, highest professional opinion, there was some hope. Trans-specific grafts, if they were made to work much better, could save, or improve, millions of lives.

There is no other way to learn something about what is truly unknown, besides trying.

The only way to defend the noblest, best, most altruistic human values is to have the courage and ability of enabling them to come alive with acts and facts. Respect and gratitude for the courage of all concerned. Especially to baby Stephanie, who became a hero of humanity, too.

All other grafts spectacularly failed too. Many have now become standard.


“To be hopeful is to be human.” Does that mean that those without hope are inhuman?

Not exactly, in the full sense of “inhuman”. But inhuman enough to get quite depressed, and often depressed enough to engage in violent acts, for example against themselves.

When our distant ancestors went down those trees, and explored the savannah, they were hopeful. Hope: we won’t even exist without it.

Patrice Ayme


One Response to “To Be Human Is To Be Hopeful.”

  1. Paul Handover Says:

    Well said!


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