A baboon's heart was transplanted
A baboon's heart was transplanted into the body of a human patient in a rate operation here yesterday, but a rate operation here yesterday, but the recipient, a woman in her 20s, died 2 1/2 hours after the operation. died 2 1/2 hours after the operation.
The 12-hour operation, in which the baboon's heart was inserted to support the woman's own ailing heart, was carried out by South African heart transplant pioneer Dr. Christian Barnard at Groote Schuur Hospital.
Barnard announced three months ago that he was preparing a bank of baboon hearts to use as temporary support organs in humans with diseased hearts but he had not originally intended to transplant one yesterday, Washington Post special correspondent Robin Wright reported.
The operation began as an attempt to insert a larger aortic valve in the patient, Wright learned, and during the surgery it was decided to use one of the specially prepared baboon hearts to boost the woman's own cardiac capacity.
Barnard, who first transplanted a human heart to replace an ailing heart in 1967, placed the baboon heart next to that of the woman yesterday in what is known as a "piggy-back" operation.
Because baboon tissue and blood groupings are incompatible to human tissue and blood, baboon hearts would be rejected by the human recipient's body within weeks even if the operation were successful.
Barnard, however, said in March that since human hearts often are not available when an emergency arises, he intended to use baboon hearts as a temporary device to sustain life until a human donor is available.
Other animal organs and tissues, including kidneys and blood vessels, have successfully been transplanted into human patients in the past but the limited success in human heart transplants has made the entire field of heart transplanting a controversial issue.
The hospital gave no details about the operation and did not disclose the exact cause of death of the patient. A hospital spokesman said Barnard would hold a news conference later today.
The operation apparently was only the second of its kind.
Doctors at the University Hospital of the University of Mississippi performed a similar operation Jan. 23, 1964, placing the heart of a 96-pound chimpanzee into a 68-year-old man. The patient died an hour after the operation and a medical bulletin said it was "apparent that the heart of the lower primate, at least at the chimpanzee level, is not quite large enough to support the circulatory load of the adult human being."
The Groote Schuur hospital spokesman did not give the species or weight of the baboon used for the transplant.
Barnard, 53, has had baboons in preparation for such a transplant for several months.
He said in March he would perform such an operation only as a last resort to save a patient's life, and that the baboon heart could give no more than temporary respite to a dying patient.
Discussing the body's tendency to reject foreign organs, Barnard told an interviewer last spring:
"It (the rejection) may take three or four weeks but I'm not sure." He estimated the temporary heart would beat long enough to allow the patient's own heart to make some recovery or to keep a patient alive until a suitable human heart became available.
Barnard said then he did not know when the first baboon transplant would take place but he was ready to go ahead with the experiment when it was "justified."