Christiaan Neethling Barnard 1922-2001

Christiaan Neethling Barnard was born in Beaufort West, in the Western Cape, South Africa. He obtained his medical degree in the late 1940s in South Africa. In 1956 he went to the USA to study cardiac surgery.

Three years after his return to South Africa, he was appointed Head of the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the teaching hospitals at the University of Cape Town.
In 1962, he was promoted to Associate Professor in the Department of Surgery at the University of Cape Town.

I first heard of Christian Barnard on the News in 1967 when he led the team that carried out the first human heart transplant. (on Louis Washansky, who died soon after.)

Even I understood the significance of this surgical breakthrough as a schoolboy. (I remember I had not long got back from watching Frankenstein at the all night cinema)

Barnard had demonstrated that heart transplants were possible. Even though many of his patients died soon after their operation, he had taken the first steps into a new form of surgery which is now routine in medical practice. In 1974, Christian Barnard carried out the first double heart transplant. He ended his career in surgery because of the impact of arthritis which made it to painful and dangerous (for the patient) to work.256

Barnard died in Paphos, Cyprus possibly from an Asthma attack. Apart from Nelson Mandela, he will be remembered as the most famous South African.

When asked what was his greatest acheivment, he answered:

"It's difficult to say. If you ask me what I would like to be remembered for, I would not say the transplants but the surgery. I have performed on children with abnormal hearts. It is much more difficult than transplantation and much more satisfying. With the surgical facilities we give a child a chance to lead a normal life."




Ken True History of Surgery and Anaesthesia