Loma Linda University Medical Center's doctors changed their minds late Thursday and decided to put "Baby Jesse" on the waiting list for a heart transplant because his paternal grandparents agreed to assume custody of the 12-day-old boy.
"The process of searching for a donor heart has begun," the hospital said in a brief statement.
The young, unwed parents of the infant born with the usually fatal hypoplastic left heart syndrome were described as "ecstatic" about the reversal by the hospital's 20-member transplantation committee.
"There was a lot of hugging . . . a lot of kissing," Susan Carpenter McMillan of the Right to Life League of Southern California told a press conference after the late afternoon announcement. She added: "But I'm not really sure it's set in. You've got to remember, this time last week they were making funeral arrangements for Baby Jesse."
Although officials of Loma Linda declined to expand on their announcement, there was nothing in it to guarantee that a heart will be found for the child--only that his name was being put on the Regional Procurement Agency List.
Baby Jesse underwent a heart operation on Wednesday to temporarily improve his blood flow and was in critical, but stable, condition at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena on Thursday, a spokeswoman there said.
McMillan and her attorney husband, Bill, earlier had issued an appeal for other hospitals to accept Baby Jesse for a transplant. However, a spokesman for Loma Linda, near San Bernardino, said he was not aware of successful infant heart transplants at any other facilities.
Loma Linda has never made public how many babies are on the waiting list. At least one infant has died in recent months waiting for a donor, the hospital has conceded. Four babies have undergone the surgery at the hospital, and all have survived.
The decision by the committee, according to the McMillans, came after the parents of the baby's father--identified only as Jesse Sr.--met with a psychiatrist at Loma Linda. The committee had set a major condition: Custody of the child must be legally transferred to the paternal grandparents.
Baby Jesse was turned down initially, it was reported, because his young parents are not married and were considered by the doctors not certain to provide the intensive post-operative care necessary for the child's survival.
In the statement issued late Thursday, the hospital said the committee had been "given additional information" about the baby and that "responsibility for continuing care . . . has been transferred from his parents to his paternal grandparents." With that assurance "of reliable care for the baby," continued the statement, "the committee has recommended that Baby Jesse be considered eligible for cardiac transplantation."
Bill McMillan said he plans to go to Superior Court today, probably in Pasadena, for an order giving temporary custody of Baby Jesse to the father's parents, who remained unidentified, but who live in the Los Angeles area.
McMillan said he expects the grandparents to gain full custody "somewhere down the line." He said the agreement--at the hospital's insistence--called for the baby to remain in their charge until treatment is completed, adding, "I don't know whether custody will ever be relinquished (to the young parents)."
The attorney said the agreement does not preclude the parents from visiting their child at the grandparents' home or occasionally taking him out.
He said he believed that no donor heart was currently available but that Loma Linda's surgeons would be ready to perform the operation as soon as one is. The McMillans said they understood that Loma Linda's Dr. Leonard Bailey, who transplanted a baboon's heart in a child known only as Baby Fae--who subsequently died--was currently in Korea but would return to do the Baby Jesse transplant if there is time.
Susan McMillan said the young mother's parents also were willing to take custody of the baby in order to win a favorable ruling from the transplant committee but that the young father's parents simply stepped forward first.
"I don't think it was one family beating the other out," she said.
Asked how much time Baby Jesse might have, Susan McMillan said, "Nobody knows." However, she pointed out that when he was born on May 25, he was given anywhere from three hours to two weeks to live.