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Christiaan Barnard



Barnard, born in 1922 in South Africa, became one of the most renowned surgeons of all time. Barnard studied and trained in Cape town and took a keen interest in gastroenterology, the study of the GI tract. He discovered the reason for intestinal atresia, a gap in the intestine due to insufficient blood supply that was often seen in new-borns. Barnard developed a surgical technique to correct the once-fatal condition. This technique was developed due to Barnard practicing on puppies. His technique went on to save many lives and this technique was adopted by surgeons worldwide.


Barnard intended to continue working and researching the GI tract but on a visit to America he was introduced to the heart-lung machine and a love for cardiothoracic surgery was born.

In 1958, Barnard was appointed head of the department of experimental surgery in Capetown. Barnard took a keen interest in organ transplantation. Barnard excelled in his field and contributed to the treatment of many cardiac diseases such as atrial septal defects and Ebstein’s anomaly.


Barnard was a very talented surgeon and was not restricted to one field. He performed the second-ever kidney transplant in South Africa in 1967. Barnard’s next mission was to transplant a heart. He experimented by transplanting 48 hearts into dogs but had no dog survive for more than 10 days.


Barnard performed the world’s first human-to-human heart transplant on the 3rd of December 1967. His patient, Washkansky would not be considered an ideal recipient in today’s world as he was a heavy smoker, and diabetic and had three heart attacks, the last of which caused congestive heart failure. Only one-third of his original heart functioned by 1967. The heart of Denise Darvall was transplanted into Washkansky after she suffered a fatal car crash. The surgery was deemed a success, but Washkansky only survived 18 days post operations due to developing pneumonia due to a weakened immune system from the immunosuppressant medication.


Barnard’s pioneering surgery began the improvement of cardiac surgeries and the enhancement of a heart transplant and thus became more successful. Barnard also pioneered heterotopic heart transplants, a piggyback transplant where a donor’s heart was transplanted but the original heart stayed in its place.


After developing rheumatoid arthritis, Barnard retired from a successful career in surgery but continued to consult and give talks up until his death in 2001 due to a severe asthma attack. His career and experimentation prolonged the lives of so many people.


Dissect real organs at The Post Mortem Live!

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