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When The World's First Heart Transplant Operation Was?

Posted Aug 25 2008 3:05pm

Heart transplant operations are not uncommon nowadays. With the current available technology and know-how, performing a heart transplant is not really a big issue, as long as there is suitable organ.



But, do you know when the world’s first heart transplant operation was?



Medical history was indeed rewritten 40 years ago in the middle of the night at a Cape Town hospital. Christiaan Barnard, a South African surgeon, was the very first doctor who carried out the heart transplant.



The patient in the first heart transplant is Louis Washkansky, a 53-year-old diabetic with incurable heart disease who had suffered three heart attacks.



Dr. Barnard had already practised the basic surgical technique for the transplant in the laboratory. But the technique was pioneered by other surgeons on animals. What he needed was just one donor to put this knowledge into practice.



On the night of the December 2, 1967, a 25-year-old woman was fatally injured in a car accident. Her blood type matched that of Washkansky's and her father agreed that her heart could be donated for the surgery. However Washkansky did not survive for long and died 18 days later after developing double pneumonia as a result of the immuno-suppressive drugs he was taking.



Dr. Barnard had never thought that he could turn himself from a unknown surgeon in South Africa to a renowned surgeon around the world. The failure in operation had, however, made him the target of criticism for rushing into the operation when so little was still known about immuno-suppression.

Nevertheless, the criticism did not prevent this type of operation from becoming popular; some 100 heart transplant attempts were carried out in the following year.



Professor Barnard was described by his colleagues as a very dynamic and exciting person, and they found him very challenging to work for. While continuing transplanting heart, he was pioneering other techniques such as 'piggyback' transplanting in which a second heart was put into a patient while leaving the first in place. He also became the first to carry out a heart-lung transplant.



Having no one to conform, Professor Barnard admitted he had often practiced passive euthanasia and regularly clashed with South Africa's government over apartheid issues.



Professor Barnard died from an asthma attack in 2001 while on holiday in Cyprus, at the age of 78.
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