National Guard Comes to Rescue in Heart Transplant

United Press International

A 5-month-old San Francisco-area boy received a heart transplant after a North Dakota National Guard fighter jet made an emergency flight from Fargo to the Stanford Medical Center, bringing the golf ball-sized organ.

Dr. Norman E. Shumway performed the operation Tuesday, 7 1/2 hours after the heart was taken from the donor body and, on emergency orders from North Dakota Gov. George Sinner, ferried in a two-seat F-4 jet from Fargo to here.

The infant on Wednesday was listed in critical but stable condition and was off the respirator, hospital spokesman Bob Goben said. The recipient had suffered from a disease in which the membrane lining the cavities of the heart thickens, interfering with normal cardiac function.


The families of both the heart recipient and donor families requested anonymity.

Sinner and the North Dakota Air National Guard got involved when a six-person Stanford medical team was stranded on the ground at Hector International Airport in Fargo after picking up the heart. A Lear jet flown to Fargo developed trouble and could not get airborne.

“I’ve done about 150 of these, and this was the first time the plane didn’t start,’ said Marguerite Brown, Stanford’s transplant donor coordinator. “I hope it’s the last.”

Upon learning that one of the North Dakota Air Guard’s two F-4 jets--kept on 24-hour alert as part of the North American Air Defense branch of the Air Force--was in Fargo, Dr. Edward Stinson, head of the Stanford team, called Sinner at 2:30 a.m. Sinner immediately ordered the National Guard into action, and the plane was aloft within 30 minutes.

“When a governor gets awakened at 2:30, it’s usually something bad,” Sinner said. “I was glad it was something I could actually do something about.”

The pilot, Lt. Robert Becklund, made the 3-hour, 15-minute flight solo after his co-pilot was bumped from the craft to make room for the heart.

Seven and one-half hours after the heart was removed from the donor, Shumway, who in January of 1968 performed the first heart transplant in the United States, and a Stanford transplant team performed the operation. It was the longest a donor heart had been out of a body and successfully transplanted, Shumway said.

The 13-pound, 5-month-old boy is also Stanford’s youngest heart transplant recipient.