The world’s first human heart transplant

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The world’s first human heart transplant

 

You may know someone who has received a heart transplant and be amazed by how well they are able to function after their recovery. Heart transplants used to be a very daring topic, with not much hope of any success.

 

A South African doctor proved everyone wrong. Dr Christiaan (Chris) Barnard performed the world’s first human to human heart transplant at the Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town on 3 December 1967. This event pushed the boundaries of science into a whole new medical era. It took Dr Barnard a decade of heart surgery before he was prepared for this specific procedure and he and his cardiothoracic team of thirty men and women were well equipped to complete the nine hour long procedure.

Louis Washkansky, the fifty three year old recipient of the new heart was battling with a debilitating heart condition. The donor was Denise Darvall, a young woman who was the victim of a pedestrian accident on 2 December. She was declared brain dead after suffering serious brain damage and her father agreed to donate his daughter’s kidneys and heart to science. The operation was started shortly before midnight on a Saturday night and by 6am the following morning, Louis new heart was electrically shocked into action. After regaining consciousness, Louis was able to talk and walk. He was also given drugs to supress his immune system and keep his body from rejecting the heart. These drugs unfortunately left him susceptible to sickness and 18 days later he died from double pneumonia. The team was still victorious though as the new heart functioned completely normally until his death.

Grootte Schuur Hospital has set up the Heart of Cape Town Museum, which honours everyone who was involved in the surgical feat. The two original operating theatres have been recreated to display and authentic representation of the ground breaking procedure that took place within those walls. The museum is visited by thousands of local and international travellers.

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