Christiaan Neethling Barnard said of the first human to human heart transplant procedure he performed on December 3, 1967:
"It really amazed me that there was so much controversy, so much criticism, so much praise, so much excitement about the operation. It was not that great an event - certainly not in the history of medicine"
Watch our video montage (compiled by Dr Paul Human) showcasing the Heart of Cape Town museum to gain insight into this groundbreaking, albeit controversial, event.
The first human heart transplant in the world had been performed in Groote Schuur Hospital.
The Head of the Cardiothoracic Surgery Department at Groote Schuur Hospital at the time was Professor Christiaan Barnard. He rose from a Karoo childhood to become a highly skilled and dedicated surgeon and finally one of the most famous cardiac surgeons of our time. By 1967 he had gathered together a team of gifted surgical colleagues to assist him. However, apart from the remarkable surgical abilities of Professor Barnard and his team, the skills of many other disciplines were needed. These included the cardiologists who had assisted with the diagnostic assessment of the patient and confirmed that a revolutionary surgical procedure was the only possible form of treatment; the radiologists and radiographers who provided the X-rays; the pathologists and their technologists who handled the laboratory tests; the immunologists who determined that the donor heart would not be rejected by the patient; the anaesthetists who provided the safe anaesthetic and monitored all vital functions; the experienced nurses in the theatre, the intensive care unit, and the ward who assisted the doctors and provided skilled nursing at every stage; the technologists who operated the heart-lung machine and other equipment; and the blood transfusion service which ensured that sufficient and safe blood was available. Apart from these people there were still others who supported the project in the background in many different ways. The separate links in the historical chain had all been forged and shortly after midnight on that Saturday surgery began. Just before 6 a.m. on Sunday 3 December 1967 a new heart in the chest of Dr Louis Washkansky was electrically shocked into action.
The first human heart transplant in the world had been performed in Groote Schuur Hospital. This event focused international attention on Groote Schuur Hospital and created a world-awareness of the expertise and abilities of its staff. Professor Barnard, without doubt, had the appropriate training, the background in research, and the necessary surgical skills to perform this remarkable feat. He also had the farsightedness and courage to take the medical, ethical and legal risk involved in performing a heart transplant. However, it must be remembered that this transplant could never have occurred without the skill and support of the many other disciplines involved.