Publisher's Letter

updated 12/03/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/03/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

"I've never handled such an emotional story," says reporter Eleanor Hoover. Shortly after she sat down in a San Bernardino Hilton hotel suite for a coveted interview with the parents of Baby Fae, the tiny infant whose blood was pumped by a baboon's heart, the phone rang. It was the hospital. "The mother took the call and said, 'What? Are you sure?' Right away my heart sank," says Hoover. "I sensed something was wrong."

Despite the doctor's optimistic prognosis even hours before, Baby Fae was losing her battle to live. "Do you want us to come right away?" Hoover heard the mother ask later. When Hoover offered to accompany the parents to the hospital, they politely declined. "They are very private people with a good sense of themselves," says Hoover. "I had to admire them. They have a lot of dignity." Not long after the parents left, a photographer friend phoned Hoover to say that Baby Fae had died.

"I think Americans love a champion, a winner challenging the odds," says Hoover, who had worked on the controversial and emotionally jarring story from the start (PEOPLE, Nov. 19). "I wanted that baby to pull through so badly!" Early on, Hoover had expressed those sentiments in a letter to Baby Fae's mother, asking her to tell her story in this magazine. A week later the parents agreed to Hoover's request. "I thought it was an important and thrilling story," she recalls thinking as the mother and father left for the hospital. "And then it seemed to be over before it had begun."

A San Francisco native now living in Brentwood, Calif., Hoover is widowed and the mother of Lawrence, 25, just returned from the Peace Corps, and Joy, 19. She holds a master's degree in psychology from the University of Iowa, was a Ph.D. candidate and won the 1975 American Psychological Association's National Media Award. With her expertise in human behavior, Hoover was uniquely qualified to talk with understanding and sympathy to Baby Fae's parents, and to record their story (see p. 48).

The morning after the child died, Hoover was touched to learn that the devastated parents wanted to continue the interview. "They came because they felt the baby was at peace," reflects Hoover. "They're proud that their daughter was involved in this historic experiment and feel it will lead to a great medical breakthrough." Hoover agrees, saying, "I felt Baby Fae won, and that this was just a start."

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