Transplant pioneer Christiaan Barnard dead

Julia Rommelfanger

September 02, 2001

Mon, 03 Sep 2001 00:04:03

Durban, South Africa - Dr Christiaan Barnard, who performed the first successful heart transplant in 1967, died today at the age of 78, the media report.

Dr Christiaan Barnard (1923-2001) (Source: Groote Schuur Hospital)

Barnard suffered a fatal asthma attack at a vacation resort in Cyprus and died in his hotel room, according to a statement by the Christiaan Barnard foundation, notes the Associated Press (AP).

The South African surgeon had achieved world fame replacing the heart of 53-year-old Louis Washkansky with that of a 25-year-old woman, who died of a car accident, at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, on December 3, 1967. Washkansky died 18 days after the transplant of double pneumonia caused by a suppressed immune system. Barnard's second heart transplant patient lived on 18 months after the transplant, before he died of chronic rejection.

The AP quotes Dr Maaten Simoons, president of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC), saying, "Thirty years later many thousands of patients a year are still benefiting from the therapy he pioneered."

In the 1950s Barnard worked at the University of Minnesota under renowned heart surgeons Drs Richard Varco and Walton Lillehei.

Famous overnight

"On Saturday, I was a surgeon in South Africa, very little known; on Monday, I was world renowned," Barnaard said years after the transplantation, as CNN reports.

Faculty members at Groote Schuur Hospital were "deeply shocked and saddened," according to Reuters. "Professor Barnard was a world-famous cardiac surgeon of outstanding abilities," said Peter Mitchell, the hospital's Chief Medical Superintendent.

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