The first successful heart transplant ....
Thirty men and women, led by Dr Christiaan Barnard, filed into an operating theatre in Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa, just after the clock struck midnight. Their task was a complex and life-changing one: to give 53-year-old greengrocer Louis Washkansky a new heart.
The patient had suffered three cardiac arrests, and unless a donor could be found, Washkansky’s death was only a matter of a time. Agreeing to participate in the incredibly risky surgery, the surgeons found a healthy heart from a 25-year-old woman named Denise Darvall, who had tragically been hit by a car. Her father agreed to the donation, believing it was what his kindhearted daughter would have wanted.
Washkansky was wheeled into the Charles Saint Theatre and put under the knife. As he lay unconscious, Barnard and his team worked tirelessly to transplant the organ into its new home. Just after 6am, the heart was electrically shocked back into life, and Washkansky woke a few hours later.
Miraculously, the operation had worked. The heart was working as expected, and the patient was able to walk and speak, so things were looking up. However, the drugs he was prescribed after the operation (to ensure his body would not reject the new heart) weakened his immune system drastically. Eighteen days after the operation, Washkansky contracted pneumonia and died.
Nevertheless, the procedure was deemed a success, despite Barnard claiming he “did not think it was a great event”. He was seen as a pioneer, and soon he was performing the procedure on many more patients, saving lives as medicine improved.