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The agony of Baby Fae's mother

LOS ANGELES -- Baby Fae's mother was frightened and relied on friends to support her decision to let doctors replace her daughter's defective heart with a healthy baboon heart, family acquaintances said in interviews in her hometown.

In an interview Thursday on CBS, Henry Bower said the 5-week-old baby's parents became estranged shortly before her birth, and said the father was not around when doctors told the mother that Baby Fae had little chance to live.

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Bower, in an interview in Barstow, Calif., where the baby's 23-year-old mother lives, said he was with her when doctors explained the options and the woman decided that the transplant 'was the only hope' for her daughter.

'He (the father) said he didn't care for the child,' Bower added.

Bower's mother, whose name was not given during the interview, said she thinks of the baby as family.

'Oh, I've held her, I've burped her, I've fed her,' she said. 'And the love you feel when you hold her, she's a fighter.'

A patron at the Back Porch Saloon, which is collecting money in a jar for Baby Fae's mother, characterized the unemployed woman as 'a frightened...scared girl... (who) just didn't know what was happening.'

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Another acquaintance said Baby Fae's mother, who also has a healthy 2-year-old son, was worried about the pain her daughter might suffer and was concerned she might be ostracized in later years if she underwent the unusual surgery.

But she said she felt the only other option was to let the baby die or try a surgery that doctors said had little chance of success.

'Would you let your baby die?' questioned the mother's friend in an interview published Thursday in The Los Angeles Times.

The owner of a restaurant in Barstow where the mother has visited friends said the young woman is 'worn out.'

'She said, 'All I'm concerned about is the baby. I don't care about me,'' said Nancy Poole. 'I said, 'But you've got to keep yourself together for the baby.' She said, 'Yeah, I have to keep myself straight for her.''

The family's identity has been a closely guarded secret since the historic cross-species heart transplant performed at Loma Linda University Medical Center Oct. 26.

Baby Fae, whose first name actually is Stephanie, was born to parents who reportedly never married, but lived together five years. They separated shortly before Baby Fae was born Oct. 14 with hypoplastic heart syndrome that would have killed her within a month.

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The Times story quoted friends as saying the young Roman Catholic mother seems overwhelmed by the pressure of having a child who has become an international curiosity.

When the baby was born, a friend of the mother said, doctors told the mother she had only one choice to make -- where to let the infant die.

But a few days later, a physician at the Loma Linda hospital called and asked if the mother would like to meet Dr. Leonard Baileyabout the possibility of a baboon heart transplant.

Initially shocked by the bizarre proposal, the mother talked it over with her estranged husband and other family members and decided to go with the operation.

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