LOMA LINDA, Calif. -- Baby Fae, her baboon heart beating steadily, is doing so well today that one of her doctors said he almost mistook her for a normal baby on the same floor on the hospital.
The infant, now 18 days old, has lived longer than any other recipient of a heart transplanted from another species. A hospital spokeswoman said she was 'really gulping her baby formula' and doing very well.
'The baby is being weaned away from the oxygen concentration, showing remarkable progress, taking formula from a bottle, and showing no indication of any crisis of any sort,' said Dr. David Hinshaw, professor of surgery at Loma Linda University Medical Center, where the life-saving tranplant was performed last Friday.
Hinshaw told a news conference the baby was expected to 'go home like any other child, although it is not in our province to predict when.'
Dr. Theodore Mackett, chairman of transplant services at the hospital, said he was 'amazed at how well the baby looks -- just like any other baby.'
'There's another normal baby on the same floor and I tell you I couldn't tell the difference,' said Mackett.
The infant was breathing, eating and playing without the aid of mechanical support systems, doctors said.
Five days after the heart of a baby baboon was transplanted into the premature infant, she was listed in serious condition, breathing without a respirator and playing gently with her mother, officials said. The hospital also said reports that she was breast fed for the first time Tuesday were incorrect.
Dr. Leonard Bailey, who led the surgical team, was reportedly staying at the hospital, out of reach of reporters, as were members of the baby's family.
Doctors at Loma Linda, about 60 miles miles east of Los Angeles, said Baby Fae is progressing well but is still receiving drugs to suppress the immune system that they fear could destroy her new heart.
The hospital also released the first pictures of the baby, showing the tiny, dark-haired infant snoozing on a bunny-festooned blanket under an oxygen tent, stretching and yawning. The only indication that anything was amiss was the dark red strip of surgical tape on her chest.
Baby Fae became the longest-living recipient of a heart from another species when she passed the 3 days that South African Benjamin Fortes, 59, lived when he received a chimpanzee heart that Dr. Christiaan Barnard implanted next to the patient's own heart.
Hinshaw said Baby Fae could outgrow the monkey heart in eight to 10 years and could require a new transplant.
Refusing to speculate on how long the baboon's heart would last, Hinshaw said the danger the baby's immune system will attack and destroy the foreign organ was greatest during the first 24 hours.
'The acute rejection is the thing most feared,' he said. 'It happens within a few hours or a day. It was the most-feared thing, and it did not occur.
'We would hope it would be permanent, but only the future can tell us that,' he said.
The historic cross-species transplant has drawn criticism from some who contend the doctors should have searched for a human heart, and animal rights advocates who contend it is cruel to use animals for medical research.
In response to reporters' questions, the doctors said the parents were given a complete explanation of alternatives to a baboon transplant to correct the baby's underdeveloped heart, such as corrective surgery or a human heart transplant, and the family consented to the experimental operation.