With constant innovation and state-of-the-art healthcare, it can be easy to forget that we’ve come a long way in a relatively short amount of time. Let’s look back on three milestones in heart transplant history.
1. Successful Open Heart Surgery
For years, doctors struggled to perform heart surgeries, as they could not find a suitable way to bypass the heart’s life-saving functions during an operation. That changed in 1953 when Dr. John Gibbon used a heart-lung machine to keep an 18-year-old alive for a half hour while he repaired a hole in her heart. This paved the way for further advancements in open heart surgery and heart transplantation.
2. The First Human-to-Human Heart Transplant
2017 marks fifty years since the first heart transplant. In 1967, Dr. Christiaan Barnard of South Africa transferred a donor heart to a man who was suffering from end-stage heart failure. Unfortunately, the man died several weeks later, as the immunosuppressants drugs he was taking to keep his body from attacking his new heart weakened his immune system. However, heart transplant history had been made, and doctors around the world were inspired to continue with this exciting development.
3. Remembering Baby Fae
Stephanie Fae Beauclair, or “Baby Fae” was the first infant to receive a non-human heart transplant. The infant was born in September 1984 with a rare congenital heart defect, and Dr. Leonard Bailey of California’s Loma Linda University Medical Center was able to transplant a tiny baboon heart into her chest. She survived for a month before her body rejected the heart, but doctors learned invaluable information from the procedure and owe the infant a tremendous debt of gratitude.