Wayne man world’s longest-surviving heart valve replacement recipient


WAYNE – On Sept. 8, 1960 a smiling Bobby Baker and his faithful dog, Rusty, had their photo published on
the front page of the Sentinel-Tribune. It was not for a happy occasion, though, because he was dying
from a damaged heart.
The photo, taken on the front porch of his home, was an appeal for 30 blood donors prior to a rare
surgery Baker had to replace his defective aortic heart valve. The valve had become scarred following
two bouts of rheumatic fever. Baker was only 11 when he went under the knife, but it was his only option
for life.
"I remember the photo," the 60-year-old recalled. "I’d just gotten home from school. I was
so hungry." The picture shows a telltale apple in one hand.
But it worked magic. More than 30 people responded to the plea, and Baker, who lives in his childhood
home, said he still has the very personal letters which people wrote him.
"Talking about it brings all the memories back," he said, tears moistening his eyes while
recalling the outpouring of concern people had for him. "It’s hard."
The surgery at St. Vincent Hospital in Cleveland was successful, as were the three which followed it.
They have allowed Baker to become the world’s longest-surviving heart valve recipient. He is billed as
"the first child, the fifth patient, the world’s longest surviving heart valve recipient and a
Guinness record holder."
Though rare in 1960, the surgery has
(See VALVE on 2)
now become common. Baker said 90,000 people in America and half a million around the world have had the
life-saving procedure.
"I’m creating buzz for a documentary," he announced, following six years of research. Next year
marks 50 years since four American heart doctors pioneered heart valve replacement surgery, including
his own surgeon, Dr. Earle B. Kay. The "buzz" has included contacting hospitals and doctors,
the American Heart Association and even celebrities like documentary maker Ken Burns, and heart valve
recipients Robin Williams, Barbara Bush and Gov. Arnold Swartzenegger. But only the AHA responded to
Baker, saying it approved of a documentary.
"It’s not about me. I don’t want it about me," he stressed. Baker wants the documentary to show
the "real-life story" of the four heart surgeons, Dr. Albert Starr, now 89, and the late Drs.
Nina Starr Braunwald, Kay and Dwight Harken.
"I’m very much a layman. I’m doing this in respect to my surgeon. He gave me life."
Attempts to fix heart valves had been done since 1928. The four doctors "were doing surgeries before
(1960) to give new valves or fix valves, but no one lived longer than three months. It was a period of
great attention for people with valve problems. … A successful replacement with an artificial valve
didn’t occur till 1960. It really was like a moon shot."
Baker is saddened initial interest in a documentary has faded because of a lack of funding. "There’s
still a lot that needs to be done for heart valve research."
But he is hopeful the U.S. Postal Service will release a heart valve stamp in 2010. The USPS is allowed
to celebrate concepts at 50 years, so he wrote to the department four years ago and was informed it
would be considered.
Back in 1960, Dr. Kay personally sewed the valve he used in Baker’s surgery. It was a half-moon style
where the heart pumped blood toward it, and the pressure folded the "leaves" apart. "It’s
like origami with Teflon leaflets. It’s quite amazing."
Recreating his photo from age 11, Baker sits on his porch holding a frame with his four life-saving
valves (three copies and one actual), instead of an apple. His 1960 valve is a facsimile which his wife,
Olga, made to look like the original. The Teflon valve wore out and lasted until 1964.
The replacement valve in 1964 was engineered with a sewing cuff, rubber ball and a titanium cage, called
the Starr-Edwards prototype ball-and-cage valve.
"This is the actual valve that was in my heart," Baker said. It still has green sutures
attached to it.
The valve went bad in 1981, and that November Baker had a stroke. In January, 1982 it was replaced with
the Bjork-Shiley monostrut valve which is still working in his heart. It has a Dacron ring with a metal
disc, held in place by metal legs, which flips back and forth with the blood flow.
Slightly different is the fourth valve, a CarboMedics bi-leaflet mitral valve identical to the one Baker
had inserted in 2004 following new heart problems. He now has both aortic and mitral valves in his
Persons wishing to contact Baker can reach him at Bob Baker, c/o Wayne, OH 43466.

No posts to display