On August 7, 1939, a 7-pound baby girl was born in a maternity hospital in the Tondo slum district of Manila, the capital of the Philippines.
Everything about the baby was normal except for one thing: she was born with her heart outside of her body.
As doctors debated what to do, they protected her tiny heart with a stemless cocktail glass.
She slept and ate normally, though her crib was lined with hot water bottles and she was fed with an eye-dropper. Whenever she cried, her exposed heart would beat faster.
Her mother, Esperanza Rafael, was told about her daughter’s condition several days after the birth. By then, a Catholic priest had already baptized her with the name María Corazón, Spanish for “Mary Heart.” (Typically the name María Corazón refers to the Virgin Mary, but in this case, of course, it also referred to the baby’s dire medical condition.)
Esperanza attributed her daughter’s malformation to her worship of a picture of the Sacred Heart, which features the exposed heart of Jesus Christ.
Visitors flocked to see María Corazón. One of these visitors was Aurora Quezón, wife of Philippine president Manuel Quezón. Another was Manila Mayor Juan Posadas, who “told doctors to spare no efforts to save the child … he would pay all expenses.”
María Corazón’s father, a 31-year-old mining company clerk and law student, turned down various commercial offers, including “a $10,000 offer by a Manila sportsman to take the baby to the New York World’s Fair by clipper plane.”
The doctors refused to risk María’s life by performing an operation, but they did bring in a movie camera to record the baby and her exposed heart.
The resultant film was to be donated to medical science, said Dr. Guillermo del Castillo, who delivered Maria, for study in the hope that some technique could be devised to correct such future abnormalities should it fail to aid its donor.
After living a total of 162 hours and 25 minutes, baby María Corazón died of bronchial pneumonia on August 14.
- “Baby Born in Philippines With Heart Outside Body.” Milwaukee Journal 8 Aug. 1939: 6.
- “Credits Worship for Baby With Heart Outside Body.” New London Evening Day 9 Aug. 1939: 9.
- “News Summary.” Philippine Magazine. 36.9 (1939): 358.
- “Operation on Baby Ruled Out.” Leader-Post 10 Aug. 1939: 5.
- “Outside Heart Baby Dies After Living for Week in Hospital in Manila.” Evening Independent 14 Aug. 1939: 3.
- “People in The News.” LIFE Aug. 28, 1939: 20.
- “Picture Held Reason for Malformation.” Leader-Post 9 Aug. 1939: 1.
- Wilson, Richard C. “Child With Heart Outside Body Amazes Entire Medical Profession.” Bend Bulletin 10 Aug. 1939: 1.