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Survival of Doomed Baby ‘Sort of a Miracle,’ Surgeon Says

October 9, 1990

LOMA LINDA, Calif. (AP) _ A baby born with usually fatal cardiac defects survived after his heart improved unexpectedly, but his parents on Monday begged for donor hearts to save the lives of other dying infants.

″We’ve been awed by the baby, really,″ said Dr. Leonard Bailey, a pioneering heart surgeon at Loma Linda University Medical Center. ″It’s been an impressive experience. ... It’s sort of a miracle.″

Weston Kilpatrick, born in Santa Maria on July 27, is alive only because of ″our prayers and the prayers of others and perhaps some medical phenomenon,″ his father, pharmacist Layne Kilpatrick, said during a Monday news conference at the university.

″I think this child has an incredible will to live. It’s miraculous,″ Kilpatrick said of his son’s spontaneous recovery from three of five heart defects. ″It hasn’t been seen before.″

Surgery was performed Friday to correct two other defects, but Weston no longer requires a heart transplant to save his life, Bailey said.

″It’s like a ton of bricks being relieved from you,″ said dietician Janet Kilpatrick, the infant’s mother.

The Kilpatricks said other newborns with deadly congenital heart defects will die unless parents of babies killed in car wrecks or other accidents agree to donate their dead children’s hearts.

About 100 babies in the United States die each day because the demand for newborn heart donors far outstrips the supply, said Bailey, who transplanted a baboon’s heart into a girl known as Baby Fae in 1984 in a futile and harshly criticized attempt to save that newborn’s life.

Since the Baby Fae transplant, Loma Linda has become a leading center for using heart transplants to save babies born with fatal cardiac defects. Of 73 infants who have received transplanted hearts there, 55 are still alive.

Bailey said about 20 hospitals across the nation now perform infant heart transplants, but the wait for donor hearts has increased from three weeks to five weeks as demand for the surgery grew.

″It’s such a terrible waste that these children and these babies have to die when these gentlemen (doctors) have proven they can save their lives″ with infant-to-infant transplants, Layne Kilpatrick said.

Baby Fae was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a fatal underdevelopment of the heart’s left pumping chamber. Weston Kilpatrick was born with a similar but less severe defect, along with underdeveloped mitral and aortic heart valves, a narrowed aorta and an open duct between two arteries, Bailey said.

The mitral valve regulates blood flow from the upper chamber to the lower chamber of the left side of the heart. The aortic valve controls blood flow from the left side of the heart into the aorta, the main artery carrying blood from the heart to the rest of the body.

After being transferred to Loma Linda, Weston remained for weeks on a waiting list for donor hearts. When doctors performed ultrasound tests on his heart about 10 days ago, they were amazed to find spontaneous and unprecedented development of the left side of the heart and the two valves.

″We have never seen this phenomenon,″ said Dr. Jorge McCormack, a pediatric cardiologist.

Bailey said Weston’s heart has ″developed to a nearly normal architecture. ... It’s a fascinating thing.″

Weston’s abnormally narrowed aorta - the main artery that carries blood from the heart to the body - was repaired Friday by Dr. Steven Gundry.

The operation also closed the open duct between two key coronary arteries. The duct normally closes by itself after birth.

Weston should be able to go home ″in another week or so,″ Bailey said.

Mrs. Kilpatrick said her first priority is to hold the child she once thought would die without a transplant.

Despite Weston’s improvement, Bailey said, ″99 percent or more of the babies (with such defects) are going to require a transplant if they’re going to live.″