Leonard Bailey, MD, the renowned Loma Linda University Health surgeon who garnered international media attention in 1984 for transplanting a baboon’s heart into a human infant known as “Baby Fae,” the research from which spawned human-to-human infant heart transplants and other cardiac treatment breakthroughs, died today at the age of 76 following a battle with cancer.
Bailey’s pioneering and controversial procedure became one of 1984’s biggest news stories, drawing daily attention of national news networks to the case in which the patient died 21 days later. He went on to transplant hearts in 376 infants and became an authority on congenital heart surgery and a consultant to physicians around the world.
His work also propelled Loma Linda University Health to become the world’s leading pediatric heart transplant center and led to innovations that enable surgeons to repair certain complex congenital heart defects instead of patients having to undergo a transplant.
Bailey served as a distinguished professor of cardiovascular and thoracic surgery and of pediatrics at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and surgeon-in-chief at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital. He served at Loma Linda University Health for a total of 42 years.
Though widely recognized for transplantations, they were only a small part of his practice, which consisted of all types of pediatric and infant open-heart surgeries.
Many of his infant heart-transplant patients came back to visit him as teenagers and adults. At least one went on to medical school.
“When we operate on these babies, the hope is that they will live longer than us. It’s nice to know that’s playing out,” Bailey said in 2017 after a 36-year-old former patient visited him. “Often when we start a case we thank the Almighty that He has put us in this position to help and that the outcomes will be according to His will.”