The baby who was to make medical history was delivered routinely at Keesler Air Force Base hospital in Biloxi, Miss. Jason Haines’s mother Hollis, 20, was awake and able to watch her hefty 9½-pound, brown-haired boy raised aloft for the traditional spank on the bottom.
No one then in the delivery room realized what the resultant howl had cost the baby’s oxygen-starved body. Jason’s father Lawrence, a 21-year-old airman, was rushed back to the hospital only an hour after he had grinned at his first-born through the nursery window. He was told that the infant’s heart, which should have been beating 115 times a minute, had dropped to a perilous 20 beats because of a mysterious blockage in the controlling bioelectrical circuit from the brain. “I’ve installed a temporary pacemaker,” heart specialist Major Luther Williams told the distraught father. “We’ve got the pulse back to 100-plus. Now he goes to New Orleans.”
Simultaneously en route to New Orleans by way of commercial jet from Minneapolis was a battery-powered pacemaker, miniaturized to one-third the hockey-puck size that can be implanted in an adult. The pacemaker reached the Ochsner Foundation Hospital six tense hours after the ambulance bearing Jason had screamed to the emergency entrance. Within 45 minutes a team led by Dr. John Ochsner, 47, had opened Jason’s chest and abdomen and implanted the device, which provides the correct number of electrical impulses to produce a normal heartbeat. Jason became the youngest pacemaker patient ever.
Cardiac surgeon Ochsner is the son of famed surgeon Dr. Alton Ochsner Sr., still practicing at 78. (He is also notable for observing a startling statistical relationship between cigarette smoking and cancer as long ago as 1933.) His son, who was embarrassed by near-stardom after performing a heart transplant two years ago, preferred to shrug away his latest surgical triumph: “Implants are the simplest of all heart operations,” said Ochsner, who has done over a thousand. “Jason’s life was saved by miniaturization, which grew out of engineering required by the space program.”
Jason can look forward to a normal, active boyhood. “He won’t be able to do the extra strenuous things like football,” say the doctors, “but he’ll swim and run and get into things like any other boy. It has to be that way. How could you tell a 3-year-old boy not to run and play?”
Three days after Jason got his tiny pacemaker, whose battery is replaceable in two years, the hospital succumbed to pressure and hosted a press conference for the space-age tot. Jason proved exquisitely well-mannered—yawning at the beginning, asleep by the end. Modestly, Dr. John Ochsner did not show up at all.