Baby Fae

updated 12/24/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/24/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

She was so tiny, so vulnerable. Her life was so brief. Yet Baby Fae made an impact on the consciousness of the world that seems likely to endure. Doomed from birth by her own malformed heart, at 2 weeks she was given a baboon's heart that kept her alive for another 20 days, longer than any other human recipient of a heart transplant from another species.

There were—and are—those who question the year's most controversial surgical operation on both medical and ethical grounds. The debate will continue. Still, no one who saw pictures of Baby Fae yawning sleepily or listening to her mom's voice over a telephone was unaffected. As Ann Martin, an anchorwoman at KABG-TV in Los Angeles put it, it was as if "the world keyed in on this one little person as a symbol of hope. We were pulling for her because she represented humanity."

Inevitably, there have been offers for books and film scripts. L.A. songwriter Daniel Roten, 26, even wrote a soft-rock tune in tribute to Baby Fae. But sadly, the reuniting of her unwed and estranged parents—identified only as Teresa and Howard—proved temporary. Teresa sought a permanent home for herself and her son, Beau, 2½. She talked of returning to school for her high school diploma. In the meantime she read thousands of letters that poured in from around the globe. Only a handful questioned her decision on Baby Fae.

Medically, the pioneering surgery fostered speculation about a future in which cross-species heart transplants might evoke no more comment than the use of pig valves in human cardiac surgery today. "We learned a tremendous amount, much of which can be applied to the next Baby Fae," said Dr. Leonard Bailey, head of Baby Fae's heart-transplant team at Loma Linda University Medical Center. "The last thing her mom told me was to make sure this experience is not wasted and to carry on." Dr. Bailey, who plans more such operations in 1985, vowed to do just that.

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