First heart transplant

It is 50 years this week that the first heart transplant operation took place in Cape Town on the 3rd December 1967.

The South African cardiac surgeon who performed the world’s first human-to-human heart transplant at the Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town was Dr. Christiaan Barnard, who became an instant celebrity, when the news of the most daring operation on a human being was revealed to the world.

Dr Bernard had, who was born in the small town of Beaufort West in 1922, went to the United States after obtaining his medical degree in South Africa and it was during his apprenticeship in America that he become familiar with the first attempts to perform open heart surgery and that he was introduced to a heart-lung machine.

With the international expertise obtained overseas Dr Barnard returned to South Africa in 1958 and was appointed head of the Department of Experimental Surgery at the Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town.

It was here that he pioneered the first ever human heart transplant and he went to become the utmost authority in the field, travelling around the world to lecture about his most daring achievement.

Rheumatoid arthritis in his hands ended his surgical career in 1983, but he went on doing medical research and leading medical teams in the heart surgery field.

Other charismatic side of his life was celebrity mingling with rich and famous around the word where he made courtship and married some the most beautiful women of his time.

He died at the age of 78 in 2001