A surgeon at Loma Linda University Medical Center whose pioneering work in infant heart transplants gained worldwide attention is undergoing treatment for cancer.
Leonard Bailey, who became famous in 1984 when he transplanted a baboon heart into an infant, noticed a lump in his neck in June. It was diagnosed as malignant and traced to a tumor at the base of his tongue.
For the last three weeks, the 58-year-old Redlands resident has received twice-daily doses of radiation at Loma Linda University's proton beam treatment center.
His treatment does not require chemotherapy or surgery, and Bailey's chances of being cured are about 80%, radiologist Les Yonemoto said.
Bailey is a professor at Loma Linda University's medical school and the chief of surgical services at the medical center.
He outraged animal rights groups in 1984 when he transplanted a baboon's heart into 12-day-old Baby Fae. She died 20 days later at Loma Linda. Bailey said at the time he hoped to do more such transplants, but there have been no others.
The next year, Bailey performed the first successful infant-to-infant heart transplant on 4-day-old Eddie Anguiano. In the years since, his team has transplanted hearts into 241 infants and 130 children 6 months or older.
Anees Razzouk, who studied under Bailey in the 1980s and became a member of his heart team, said his dedication to Loma Linda changed the university into an internationally known treatment center for children.
Bailey's illness has saddened people at the university and the medical center, President Lyn Behrens said.
"He is the gentle giant around Loma Linda," she said. "We see this as a hiatus rather than a termination of his involvement. He's a wonderful person who is just passionate about what he does and has invested his life in changing the course of illness and giving people hope."
Vaughn Starnes, head of cardiothoracic surgery at USC's medical school and Childrens Hospital, described Bailey as a premier surgeon who has made internationally accepted contributions to the way surgeons treat children with heart problems.
"Prior to Dr. Bailey's work, there were attempted repairs," he said. "He set the stage for the transplantation of the heart in infants and small children. We in the field learned a lot from his work and use his innovations. Dr. Bailey is really an incredible innovator."