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Christiaan N. Barnard

Christiaan N. Barnard

The South African surgeon Christiaan N. Barnard (born 1922) performed the world's first human heart transplant operation in 1967 and the first double-heart transplant in 1974.

Christiaan N. Barnard was born on November 8, 1922, in Beaufort West, South Africa. He received his early education in Beaufort West and then went on to the University of Cape Town, where he received an M.D. in 1953. Barnard worked for a short time as a general practitioner before joining the Cape Town Medical School staff as a research fellow in surgery. With the hope of pursuing his research interests and gaining new surgical skills and experiences, he enrolled at the University of Minnesota Medical School (1955). After two years of study with Dr. Owen H. Wangensteen he received his Ph.D. from Minnesota and returned to his native country to embark upon a career as a cardiothoracic surgeon.

Before he left for America (1953-1955), Barnard had gained recognition for research in gastrointestinal pathology. He proved that the fatal birth defect known as congenital intestinal atresia (a gap in the small intestines) was due to the fetus receiving an inadequate supply of blood during pregnancy and that it could be remedied by a surgical procedure.

Upon his return to South Africa, he introduced open-heart surgery to that country, designed artificial valves for the human heart, and experimented with the transplantation of the hearts of dogs. All of this served as preparation for his 1967 human heart transplant.

Although Barnard was a pioneering cardiac surgeon, his innovations were founded upon a half-century of experimental heart surgery that preceded them. Of crucial importance was the first use of hypothermia (artificial lowering of the body temperature) in 1952 and the introduction in the following year of an effective heart-lung machine. These advances, combined with other techniques perfected in the 1960s, enabled a surgeon for the first time to operate upon a heart that was motionless and free of blood.

After a decade of heart surgery, Barnard felt ready to accept the challenge posed by the transplantation of the human heart. In 1967 he encountered Louis Washkansky, a 54-year-old patient who suffered from extensive coronary artery disease and who agreed to undergo a heart transplant operation. On December 2, 1967, the heart of a young woman killed in an accident was removed while Washkansky was prepared to receive it. The donor heart was kept alive in a heart-lung machine circulating Washkansky's blood until the patient's diseased organ could be removed and replaced with the healthy one.

In order to suppress the body's defense mechanism that would normally reject a foreign organism, Barnard and his team of cardiac specialists gave the patient large doses of drugs, which allowed the patient's body to accept the new organ. However, Washkansky's body was not able to defend itself against infection, and he died on December 21, 1967 of double pneumonia. Despite Washkansky's death, Barnard was rightly hailed around the world for his surgical feat. Within a year (January 1968) Barnard replaced the diseased heart of Philip Blaiberg, 58-year-old retired dentist. This time the accompanying drug dosage was lowered, and Blaiberg lived for 20 months with his new heart.

Barnard's innovations in cardiac surgery brought him honors from a host of foreign medical societies, governments, universities, and philanthropic institutions. As he travelled abroad to receive these awards, he was criticized for readily accepting the role of a celebrity. Nevertheless, after Barnard's successful operations, surgeons in Europe and the United States began performing heart transplants, improving upon the procedures first used in South Africa. The first human heart transplantation in America took place on December 6, 1967, by Dr. Adrian Kantrowitz. But the patient, an infant, lived only 6 hours.

Seven years after his initial heart transplant, Barnard made medical history once again when he performed a "twin-heart" operation (November 25, 1974). This time he removed only the diseased portion of the heart of 58-year-old Ivan Taylor and replaced it with the heart of a 10-year-old child. The donor heart acted as a booster and back-up for the patient's disease-ravished organ. Although Barnard was optimistic about this new operation, which he believed was less radical than a total implantation, the patient died within four months.

Rheumatoid arthritis, which had plagued Barnard since the 1960s, limited his surgical experimentation in later years. As a result, he turned to writing novels as well as books on health, medicine, and South Africa, while serving as a scientist consultant. He has also been presented many honorary doctorates, foreign orders, and awards, including the Dag Hammarskjold International Prize and Peace Prize, the Kennedy Foundation Award, and the Milan International Prize for Science. Barnard was also featured in a BBC program about transplant surgery, "Knife to the Heart: The Man With the Golden Hands, " in early 1997.

Further Reading

Barnard's life can be studied in his autobiograpy, One Life, by Christiaan Barnard and Curtis B. Pepper (1969) and in two biographies: Peter Hawthorne, The Transplanted Heart (1968) and L. Edmond Leipold, Dr. Christiaan Barnard, the man with the golden hands (1971). On cardiac surgery see: R. G. Richardson, The Scalpel and the Heart (1970) and Stephen L. Johnson, The History of Cardiac Surgery, 1896-1955 (1969). Other information on Barnard can be found in the New York Times (January 27, 1997); Time (October 7, 1996); and People (April 8, 1996). □

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Barnard, Christiaan

Christiaan Barnard

Born: November 8, 1922
Beaufort West, South Africa
Died: September 2, 2001
Paphos, Cyprus

South African surgeon

The South African surgeon Christiaan Barnard performed the world's first human heart transplant operation in 1967 and the first double-heart transplant in 1974.

Childhood and education

Christiaan N. Barnard was born to Dutch descendants on November 8, 1922, in Beaufort West, South Africa. Barnard, along with his three brothers, grew up extremely poor and attended the local public schools. Barnard then went on to the University of Cape Town, where he received a master's degree in 1953.

Barnard worked for a short time as a doctor before joining the Cape Town Medical School staff as a research fellow in surgery. With the hope of pursuing his research interests and gaining new surgical skills and experiences, he enrolled at the University of Minnesota Medical School in 1955. After two years of study he received his Ph.D. (doctorate degree) and returned to his native country to embark upon a career as a cardiothoracic (heart) surgeon.

A distinguished surgeon

Before Barnard left for America, he had gained recognition for research in gastrointestinal pathology (intestinal diseases), where he proved that the fatal birth defect known as congenital intestinal atresia (a gap in the small intestines) was due to the fetus (undeveloped baby) not receiving enough blood during pregnancy. Barnard proved that this condition could be cured by a surgical procedure. Upon his return to South Africa, he introduced open-heart surgery to that country, designed artificial valves for the human heart, and experimented with the transplantation of the hearts of dogs. All of this served as preparation for his 1967 human heart transplant.

Although Barnard was a pioneering cardiac surgeon, his advances were based on work that came before him. Of crucial importance was the first use of hypothermia (artificial lowering of the body temperature) in 1952, and the introduction in the following year of an effective heart-lung machine. These advances, combined with other techniques perfected in the 1960s, enabled a surgeon for the first time to operate upon a heart that was motionless and free of blood.

The first transplant

After a decade of heart surgery, Barnard felt ready to accept the challenge posed by the transplantation of the human heart. In 1967 he encountered Louis Washkansky, a fifty-four-year-old patient who suffered from extensive coronary artery disease (the arteries around the heart) and who agreed to undergo a heart transplant operation. On December 2, 1967, the heart of a young woman killed in an accident was removed while Washkansky was prepared to receive it. The donor heart was kept alive in a heart-lung machine that circulated Washkansky's blood until the patient's diseased organ could be removed and replaced with the healthy one.

In order to fool the body's defense mechanism that would normally reject a foreign organism, Barnard and his team of heart specialists gave the patient large doses of drugs, which allowed the patient's body to accept the new organ. Washkansky's body was not able to defend itself against infection, however, and he died on December 21, 1967, of double pneumonia, a disease effecting the lungs. Despite Washkansky's death, Barnard was praised around the world for his surgical feat. Within a year (January 1968) Barnard replaced the diseased heart of Philip Blaiberg, a fifty-eight-year-old retired dentist. This time the drug dosage was lowered, and Blaiberg lived for twenty months with his new heart. After Barnard's successful operations, surgeons in Europe and the United States began performing heart transplants, improving upon the procedures first used in South Africa.

Later career

Seven years after Barnard performed his first heart transplant, he made medical history once again when he performed a "twin-heart" operation on November 25, 1974. This time he removed only the diseased portion of the heart of fifty-eight-year-old Ivan Taylor, replacing it with the heart of a ten-year-old child. The donor heart acted as a booster and back-up for the patient's diseased organ. Although Barnard was optimistic about this new operation, which he believed was less radical than a total implantation, the patient died within four months.

Rheumatoid arthritis (a severe swelling of the joints), which had plagued Barnard since the 1960s, limited his surgical experimentation in later years. As a result, he turned to writing novels as well as books on health, medicine, and South Africa while also serving as a scientific consultant.

Barnard's advances in heart surgery brought him honors from a host of foreign medical societies, governments, universities, and philanthropic (charitable) institutions. He has also been presented many honors, including the Dag Hammarskjold International Prize and Peace Prize, the Kennedy Foundation Award, and the Milan International Prize for Science. Barnard died on September 2, 2001, while on vacation in Paphos, Cyprus. He was seventy-eight.

Shortly before Barnard's death, he spoke with Time magazine and left these inspiring words: "The heart transplant wasn't such a big thing surgically," he said. "The point is I was prepared to take the risk. My philosophy is that the biggest risk in life is not to take the risk."

For More Information

Bankston, John. Christiaan Barnard and the Story of the First Successful Heart Transplant. Bear, DE: Mitchell Lane, 2002.

Barnard, Christiaan, and Curtis B. Pepper. One Life. London: Harrap, 1970.

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Barnard, Christiaan N

Barnard, Christiaan N.

Robert K. Jarvik's experiments with artificial heart transplants followed Christiaan Barnard's (1922-) pioneering work in human heart transplantation. Barnard rose to international prominence when he performed the world's first human heart transplant at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa, on December 3, 1967. Fifty-five-year-old Louis Washkansky, recipient of the first transplanted heartthat of a young woman who became brain dead following an auto accident but whose heart was still beatingrecovered well enough to sit up in bed and eat steak and eggs. But eighteen days after his surgery he died of double pneumonia. His immune system, suppressed by drugs and radiation so pneumonia would not attack his new heart, had been unable to fight the infection.

The doctor who performed this revolutionary surgery had been interested in transplant procedures for much of his career. Barnard was born and raised in the South African countryside. Known for his excellent academic performance and photographic memory, he graduated from the University of Cape Town medical school in 1946. During his residency training, Barnard studied tubercular meningitis (an inflammation that results from infection). After he transferred to Groote Schuur Hospital (the site of his famous transplant procedure), Barnard became interested in surgery. Eventually, he and his surgeon brother Marius began experimenting with heart transplants using dogs as subjects. By the end of 1967, Barnard felt prepared to try his techniques on a human subject.

Barnard's heart transplant surgery opened a host of ethical questions, which were widely discussed in forums such as newspapers and magazines. The initial enthusiasm for heart transplant surgery faded quickly, not over ethical quandaries, but because heart recipients continued to succumb to infection. Amid criticism that he had rushed too hastily into a risky procedure, Barnard continued to perform and perfect the transplant procedure. As the operation became more routine, more patients survived longer. By 1983 over sixty-three heart transplants had been done at Groote Schuur under Barnard's direction (including a 1974 double-heart transplant, in which Barnard implanted the heart of a ten-year-old girl in the body of a fifty-year-old man without removing the man's diseased heart).

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Barnard, Christiaan Neethling

Christiaan Neethling Barnard (krĬs´tēän´ nā´ŧħĬng bär´nərd), 1922–2001, South African surgeon. The son of a Dutch Reformed minister, Barnard studied medicine at the Univ. of Cape Town (M.B. 1946, M.D. 1953), then came to the United States in 1955 to improve his surgical technique under Owen H. Wangensteen at the Univ. of Minnesota. While in Minneapolis, he performed his first heart operation, and he later pursued further heart surgery training at the Univ. of Virginia. Returning to Cape Town, he was appointed director of surgical research at the Groote Schuur Hospital, where he made medical history on Dec. 3, 1967, when he completed the world's first human heart transplant. Barnard also designed artificial heart valves, wrote extensively on the subject of congenital intestinal atresia, and developed surgical procedures relating to organ transplants.

See his book, written with J. Illman, The Body Machine: Your Health in Perspective (1981); biography by L. E. Leopold (1971).

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Barnard, Christiaan

Barnard, Christiaan (1922–2001) South African surgeon. Barnard was the first to perform a human heart transplant (December 3, 1967). In 1974 Barnard performed the first ‘piggy-back’ transplant, implanting a second heart in a patient and linking it to the existing heart to assist the healing.

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