August 28, 1942 – May 12, 2019
Surgeon Leonard Lee Bailey ’69, easily the best-known graduate of Loma Linda University School of Medicine (LLUSM), was born August 28, 1942, at Washington Adventist Sanitarium and Hospital in Takoma Park, Maryland. He died May 12, 2019, at his home in Redlands, California.
Though he was to become a pioneer and world star of pediatric cardiac surgery, Dr. Leonard Bailey’s roots were humble. His father, a chef, had completed only two years of high school; his mother, a nurse, worked nights at the hospital so that she could care for her own mother and her four children by day. Money was tight, and young Len was no stranger to hard work. At 13 he got his first paying job, in the Sanitarium cafeteria, to help with tuition costs at Takoma Academy. At Columbia Union College (CUC), he worked summers in construction — installing insulation, hanging sheet rock, and shingling roofs. When his first application to LLUSM was rejected, he used the extra year to complete certification as a laboratory technician, working nights as a hospital orderly. Accepted on his second application, he came to California to begin medical school in 1965.
The first semester, with six days a week of immersion in gross anatomy, was a marathon. Our four-student dissection team included Len Bailey, Bob Wagner ’69, Dick Evans ’69, and me. As our cadaver slowly devolved to a malodorous mass of flesh barely recognizable as once human, Len’s enthusiasm remained unabated. He studied with singular purpose — perhaps harder than any of us — and when he wasn’t waxing eloquent about his fiancée, Nancy Schroeder, he was planning his career as a heart surgeon. He had been inspired, he later said, by Drs. Ellsworth E. Wareham ’42 and Joan Coggin ’53-A when they visited CUC to give a talk about their work on the heart team.
As junior medical students, Bailey and Wagner worked in Dr. Louis Smith’s “dog lab,” harvesting and transplanting hearts between animals. Together they developed a unique extracorporeal perfusion system for preserving the hearts between transplants, and their paper describing the method was published in 1970 in the Archives of Surgery. Eventually, Dr. Bailey’s name would appear on over 200 articles.
His rise to prominence in his field was not meteoric. It came slowly after seven grueling (but, according to him, “fun”) years in training as a resident and fellow in general and cardiothoracic surgery that included a “splendid” year at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto as a clinical fellow with Dr. William Mustard. It was in Toronto, watching some 20 “beautiful babies” with hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HPLHS) die that year, that Dr. Bailey began to think that infants with the otherwise uniformly fatal anomaly could be saved by heart transplants. His suggestion at an afternoon conference that “what this baby needs is a transplant” was met, he said, with “deafening silence.” It had never been done, and nobody other than him thought it possible.
Back at Loma Linda, on the faculty and with generous funding from the surgery group, Dr. Bailey set up a cardiac transplant research laboratory. In 1984, after seven years’ experience transplanting hundreds of hearts within and across species, he stepped into history with the first-ever human neonatal heart transplant. The recipient, an infant with HPLHS named “Baby Fae,” lived for 21 days with the heart of a young baboon. A little over a year later in 1986, Dr. Bailey performed the first successful human-to-human transplant on a four-day-old infant with HPLHS. “Baby Moses,” now 34, is the longest-living pediatric heart transplant patient in the world.
In the years that followed, Dr. Bailey would go from being the object of severe criticism from colleagues at other institutions and the target of vicious protests from animal rights activists who threatened his life and the lives of his family to becoming a hero of health care. In 40-plus years of practice, he would do some 375 infant-to-infant heart transplants and numerous other pediatric cardiac surgeries, a record that has made LLU the world leader in this area.
Beloved of patients and the many residents and fellows he trained in the heart transplant program he set up at Loma Linda, he was endlessly optimistic and also beloved of support staff, secretaries, janitors, and his classmates. There was not an arrogant bone in his body, and he never cared about making money. He set up a foundation to raise funds for patients who could not afford care; he traveled to numerous other countries to perform surgery and to teach native surgeons his skills. Notwithstanding accolades from around the world and praise from academic physicians who had once been his sharpest critics, he remained utterly loyal to Loma Linda, turning down lucrative offers from other institutions, never wavering from his commitment to Christian medicine as practiced here.
In a moving tribute at Dr. Bailey’s memorial service on June 23, Anees J. Razzouk ’82, chair of cardiothoracic surgery, spoke of how Dr. Bailey returned to work for 16 more years after radiation treatment for mid-career throat cancer, which left him without functioning salivary glands. Determined to continue, he rigged up a device that “micro-dripped” water into his mouth via IV tubing during the long hours of transplant cases.
Dr. Razzouk also mentioned how after a second bout with cancer made it almost impossible for Dr. Bailey to speak clearly, he carried note cards in his pocket on which he wrote messages of encouragement to colleagues and staff, including Dr. Razzouk himself.
One of those notes epitomizes his indomitable spirit when he wrote, “I don’t regret a thing. I would do it all again.”
Rest in peace, dear friend. There is laid up for you a crown.
(Source: Donna L. Carlson ’69, classmate of Dr. Bailey)