Biography of Dr. Christiaan Barnard, surgeon who performed the world’s first heart transplant.
Specialized in open-heart surgery and organ transplantation. Dr. Christiaan Barnard South African Cardiac Surgeon and Heart Transplant Pioneer.
South African Cardiac surgeon, Dr Christiaan Barnard, is famous for performing the world’s first successful human heart transplant.
Early Life of Christiaan Barnard
Barnard was born on November 8, 1922, in Beaufort West, South Africa, son of a minister in Reformed Church. One of his brothers died of a heart problem while a toddler, an event which affected the Barnard family. He studied at the University of Cape Town Medical School, his internship and residency at the Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, and became a general practitioner in Ceres, in Western Cape province.
In 1951, he returned to Cape Town to work at two hospitals and complete his Masters degree, which he received in 1953 from the University of Cape Town. He later obtained a doctorate in medicine from the same university for a dissertation entitled “The treatment of tuberculous Meningitis.
From 1956, he attended the University of Minnesota to study surgery. It was while he was in Minneapolis that he became involved in cardiothoracic surgery and chose it as his specialty. During this time, Barnard first became acquainted with Norman Shumway, who did much of the pioneering research leading to the first human heart transplant.
Two years later he was appointed cardiothoracic surgeon at the Groote Schuur Hospital, establishing the hospital’s first heart unit.
Work on Heart Transplant
For several years, Barnard experimented with animal heart transplants following the first successful kidney transplant in the US, in 1954. He performed his first kidney transplant in South Africa in 1959. A lecturer at the University of Cape Town, he was made head of cardiothoracic surgery.
World’s First Human Heart Transplant
Barnard performed the world’s first human heart transplant operation on 3 December 1967, assisted by his brother, Marius Barnard, lasting nine hours and using a team of 30 persons.
The patient, Louis Washkansky, was 55 years old and suffering from diabetes and heart disease. The transplant heart came from a young woman, Denise Darvall, killed in a road accident. Washkansky survived the operation and lived for 18 days, succumbing to pneumonia induced by the immuno-suppressive drugs he was taking.
More Heart Transplants
Barnard continued work on heart surgery and transplant: a transplant operation was conducted on 2 January 1968, and the patient, Philip Blaiberg, survived for 19 months. Mrs Dorothy Fisher was given a new heart in 1969 and became the longest surviving patient; she lived for 24 years after the transplant.
Other Pioneering and Innovative Endeavors
Barnard also pioneered new and risky techniques, including double transplants, artificial valves and using animal hearts for emergency treatment.
He performed some orthotopic transplants, and either himself or his group also performed many heterotopic transplants.
He also continued innovative medical research, including ways of slowing down the ageing process.
Books by Dr. Christiaan Barnard
Barnard wrote two autobiographies, One Life, 1969, and The Second Life, 1993. Apart from these two autobiographies, he also wrote several books, including Arthritis Handbook and 50 Ways to a Healthy Heart.
Recognition and Award
After his successful first heart transplant, he became an instant superstar overnight, known as a brilliant surgeon with many contributions to the treatment of cardiac diseases. In 1972, he was promoted to Professor of Surgical Science in the Department of Surgery at the University of Cape Town.
Over the years, he also received many awards, among them, he was named Professor Emeritus in 1984.
Barnard died in September 2, 2001.