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1942 - 2019

Leonard L. Bailey, MD, 1942-2019

Leonard L. Bailey, MD passed away in Redlands, California on May 12, 2019 after a lengthy battle with throat cancer. He was predeceased by his wife of 50 years, Nancy, on April 7, 2019. He is survived by two sons, two granddaughters, and a legacy of hundreds of children he saved as a pioneering pediatric heart surgeon.

Leonard Lee Bailey was born on August 28, 1942 in Takoma Park, Maryland. As an undergraduate at Columbia Union College (now Washington Adventist College), a visit from the Dean of the School of Medicine at Loma Linda University (LLU) initiated what would eventually become an almost 50-year professional relation with that institution. After attending medical school at LLU, Dr. Bailey completed a residency in cardiovascular and thoracic surgery, including a fellowship at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada. It was this experience at Sick Kid’s that sparked a pioneering career in the fledgling field of congenital heart surgery. While in Toronto, Dr. Bailey was exposed to numerous babies with hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), at that time a uniformly lethal congenital abnormality with no realistic options for treatment.

Propelled by his congenital heart surgery fellowship and passion to innovate, the young Dr. Bailey joined the faculty of LLU in 1976. He focused his clinical efforts on developing new techniques for complex congenital corrections, while his research interest was in transplantation, particularly xenotransplantation. Over the ensuing 8 years, Dr. Bailey and associates performed hundreds of experiments in cross-species transplantation, making important progress in not only their understanding of immune system modulation, but also in critical surgical technique development. These efforts were central to the remainder of Dr. Bailey’s career at LLU, where he rose to the rank of Distinguished Professor of Surgery and Pediatrics and was Surgeon-in-Chief at the LLU Children’s Hospital. In 1984, Dr. Bailey and team performed the first successful cardiac transplant procedure in a newborn baby, using a baboon as the donor. This event, now recognized worldwide as the “Baby Fae operation”, brought enormous attention and at times, criticism to Dr. Bailey and LLU. Although “Baby Fae” only survived 21 days after the procedure, this event opened the door for broader infant cardiac transplantation utilizing human donors. Dr. Bailey went on to perform cardiac transplant operations in 376 infants during the course of his career, proving this to be a vital and durable option for critically ill newborns, including those with HLHS.

Leonard Bailey remained linked to the Baby Fae operation for the rest of his life, but his career contributions were much greater. He was a superb neonatal cardiac surgeon, responsible for perfecting operations that benefit hundreds, educating a generation of surgical leaders and participating in worldwide humanitarian efforts in our field. He was a kind, humble, determined, inspiring individual and a role model for all of us in pediatric cardiac surgery.