A 15-month-old California boy, identified only as "Baby James," underwent a successful human heart transplant Saturday afternoon at Loma Linda University Medical Center, hospital officials announced.
Baby James had suffered from cardiomyopathy, a general deterioration of the heart muscle, and during the past few months had endured both pneumonia and congestive heart failure.
Loma Linda public affairs officer Richard Schaefer said no additional information on the baby, the heart donor or how the organ became available will be released. However, he said, the parents "have expressed gratitude to the donor family for the difficult decision they made and for their gift of life to Baby James" and have asked the hospital to release periodic reports on the condition of their son, an only child.
Despite the secrecy at Loma Linda, a spokesperson at California Medical Center-Los Angeles said Baby James' new heart is that of a brain-dead, 15-month-old girl who was disconnected from life-support systems Saturday morning, with her father's consent. She had been hospitalized there since last Sunday for an accidental drug overdose, and died after developing a blood clot on the brain.
Baby James is the third baby to receive a human heart transplant at Loma Linda, a Seventh-day Adventist hospital located 60 miles east of Los Angeles. The first two, 4-day-old Baby Moses, who got his new heart last November, and 17-day-old Baby Eve, who received a transplant in January, are both still alive. Both had been born with a malformation known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome, in which the side of the heart that pumps blood to the body does not fully develop. The condition is almost always fatal.
Saturday's operation, like the previous two baby heart transplants, was performed by Dr. Leonard Bailey, chief of pediatric cardiac surgery, who was assisted by Dr. John Jacobson, director of cardio-thoracic surgery. Bailey is the controversial surgeon who transplanted a baboon heart into the infant known as Baby Fae in 1984; the infant died 20 1/2 days later.
Baby-to-baby heart transplants are still quite rare, both because they are more risky than adult transplants and because donors are difficult to find.
Initially, the father of Baby James' donor had been suspected of child abuse and the county had sought custody of the girl. However, charges filed against him in a Los Angeles juvenile dependency court petition were dismissed Friday by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Marcus Tucker, on the recommendation of Deputy County Counsel Tom Tyrrell.
County officials said further investigation had shown the child-abuse allegations against the man to be unfounded. They emphasized that they had not pressured him to give physicians permission to "pull the plug" on his daughter. The father could not be reached for comment.
A California Medical Center spokesperson said relatives of the girl had been with her at the hospital Friday, but it was unclear whether the father was released from jail--where he had been held all week on several warrants for minor offenses--in time to see his daughter before her respirator was turned off and her heart removed, cooled and transported by a special transplant team from Loma Linda.