Christiaan Barnard (1922-2001)

Christiaan Barnard.

Christiaan Barnard.

Credits:Heart of Cape Town Museum

Christiaan Barnard was a South African cardiac surgeon who achieved fame by performing the first successful heart transplant in the world. In 1967 he transplanted the heart from a young brain-dead woman to Louis Washkansky, who had incurable heart disease. Although Washkansky lived for only 18 days after his surgery, Barnard had passed a milestone in transplant surgery and became famous overnight.

Barnard's experimental surgery prompted other surgeons to attempt heart transplants. In 1968 a hundred heart transplant procedures were attempted but they all failed and every recipient died. The advent of drugs such as ciclosporin, which reduced the chances of organ rejection, ensured that patients survived for longer periods than Louis Washkansky.

Barnard continued to transplant hearts and his longest-surviving patient lived for 24 years after her surgery.