On December 3, 1967, 53-year-old Lewis Washkansky receives the first human heart transplant at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa. Washkansky, a South African grocer dying from chronic heart disease, received the transplant from Denise Darvall, a 25-year-old woman who was fatally injured in a car accident.
Surgeon Christiaan Barnard, who trained at the University of Cape Town and in the United States, performed the revolutionary medical operation. The technique Barnard employed had been initially developed by a group of American researchers in the 1950s.
American surgeon Norman Shumway achieved the first successful heart transplant this time, in a dog, at Stanford University in California in 1958.
After Washkansky’s surgery, he was given drugs to suppress his immune system and keep his body from rejecting the heart. These drugs also left him susceptible to sickness, however, 18 days later, he died from double pneumonia.
Despite the setback, Washkansky’s new heart had functioned normally until his death. In the 1970s, the development of better anti-rejection drugs made transplantation more viable.
Dr. Barnard continued to perform heart transplant operations, and by the late 1970s many of his patients were living up to five years with their new hearts. Successful heart transplant surgery continues to be performed today, but finding appropriate donors is extremely difficult.
Christiaan Neethling Barnard (8 November 1922 – 2 September 2001) was a South African cardiac surgeon who performed the world’s first humanto- human heart transplant on December 3, 1967, and the second overall heart transplant (Hardy did a xenotransplant in 1964). Growing up in Beaufort West, Cape Province, he studied medicine and worked in that field for several years in his native country.
In 1955, he travelled to the United States for postgraduate training under open heart surgery pioneer Walt Lillehei, where he first became acquainted with the future heart transplantation surgeon Norman Shumway. Upon returning to South Africa in 1958, Barnard was appointed car- diothoracic surgeon at the Groote Schuur Hospital, establishing the hospital’s first heart unit.
On 3 December 1967, Barnard transplanted a heart from a person who had just died from a head injury, with full permission of the donor’s family, into the chest of a 54-year-old Louis Washkansky. Washkansky regained full consciousness and lived for 18 days, even spending time with his wife, before he died of pneumonia, with the reduction of his immune system by the anti-rejection drugs being a major contributing factor. However, Barnard’s second transplant patient Philip Blaiberg at the beginning of 1968 lived for 19 months and was able to go home from the hospital.
A heart transplant, or a cardiac transplant, is a surgical transplant procedure performed on patients with end-stage heart failure or severe coronary artery disease when other medical or surgical treatments have failed. As of today ,the most common procedure is to take a functioning heart from a recently deceased organ donor and implant it into the patient.
The patient’s own heart is usually removed and replaced with the donor’s heart.
Post-operative complications include infection, sepsis, organ rejection, as well as the side-effects of the immunosuppressive medication. Since the transplanted heart originates from another organism, the recipient’s immune system typically attempts to reject it.
The risk of rejection never fully goes away, and the patient will be on immunosuppressive drugs for the rest of his or her life, but these may cause unwanted side effects, such as increased likelihood of infections or development of certain cancers.
Recipients can acquire kidney disease from a heart transplant due to side effects of immunosuppressant medications.
Many recent advances in reducing complications due to tissue rejection stem from mouse heart transplant procedures.
Approximately 3500 heart transplants are performed every year in the world, more than half of which occur in the US.
Post-operation survival periods average 15 years. Heart transplantation is not considered to be a cure for heart disease, but a life-saving treatment intended to improve the quality of life for recipients.