Dr Christiaan Barnard was the South African
surgeon who in 1967
performed the first heart transplant
on a human being. He has died today, 2 September 2001, apparently of an asthma attack, on holiday in Paphos
Born at Beaufort West in South Africa on 8 November 1922, Christiaan Neethling Barnard graduated from the University of Cape Town in 1946 and after a spell as a family doctor in the town of Ceres, in 1951 became resident at the Groote Schuur hospital in Cape Town. He held a scholarship at the University of Minnesota between 1956 and 1958. On his return to Cape Town he specialized in open heart surgery.
At Groote Schuur he performed his pioneer five-hour operation on 55-year-old Louis Washkansky on 3 December 1967, giving him the heart of a road accident victim, 25-year-old Denise Darvall. Washkansky lived for 18 days before succumbing to pneumonia and transplant rejection, but the procedure was shown to be possible.
His other achievements included the discovery that intestinal atresia was caused by an inadequate bloody supply to the fetus, and the invention of an artificial heart valve named after him.
Dr Barnard retired from surgery in 1983 because of arthritis and later entered politics. He wrote two volumes of autobiography, One Life in 1970 and The Second Life in 1993, as well as several novels, and spent much time touring the world and lecturing.
He was married three times: to Aletta Louw from 1948 to 1969, to Barbara Zoellner from 1970 to 1982, and to Karin Setzkorn from 1988 to 2000. He had two children from each of these marriages. His own brother Abraham had died of heart disease at the age of five, possibly a spur to Christiaan Barnard's future career; though he said he did it for the money.
He is supposed to have said (the quote is apparently unconfirmed), "The prime goal is to alleviate suffering, and not to prolong life. And if your treatment does not alleviate suffering, but only prolongs life, treatment should be stopped."
Barnard wrote, of Washkansky's 80% chance of surving the operation, "For a dying man it is not a difficult decision because he knows he is at the end. If a lion chases you to the bank of a river filled with crocodiles, you will leap into the water convinced you have a chance to swim to the other side. But you would never accept such odds if there were no lion."