Anniversary of the world’s first heart transplant

On December 3, 1967, Professor Christian Barnard performed the world’s first heart transplant on a 53-year-old patient, Louis Washkansky in the Groot-Shur hospital in Cape Town (South Africa).

Vashkansky, who was on the brink of death from an incurable heart disease, received the organ of a 25-year-old woman, Denise Darvall, who was fatally injured in a car accident. Christian Barnard, who worked at the University of Cape Town, performed the operation based on technology developed in the United States in the 1950s, in particular, by surgeon Norman Shumway, who in 1958 performed the first successful heart transplant in a dog at Stanford University. After the operation, Vashkansky was prescribed drugs  supposed to reduce the activity of his immune system and eliminate the possibility of rejection of the foreign organ, however, they made him defenseless against other diseases, and 18 days later Vashkansky died of bilateral pneumonia; at the same time, the heart worked normally until the moment of death.

The next operation was performed by Christian Barnard on January 2, 1968. The patient lived with the transplanted heart for more than 19 months. On January 6, 1968, the first heart transplant was performed at Stanford University (USA) by Dr. Norman Shumway. In total, by the end of 1968, more than a hundred such operations were conducted around the world. However, by 1970, due to the low life expectancy of recipients, the number of heart transplants worldwide decreased to 18. The opportunity to increase the life expectancy of patients appeared thanks to the creation of a new generation of immunosuppressants capable of effectively preventing the rejection of donor organs. After that, the number of operations per year exceeded a thousand, and the life expectancy of patients after transplantation began to be counted in years. The longest lived was Tony Huesman, who at the time of his death from cancer on August 10, 2009, had lived with someone else’s heart for 31 years (the operation was performed at Stanford when Huesman was 20 years old). By the way, the first heart transplant operation in Ukraine was performed by Professor Borys Mykhailovych Todurov on March 2, 2001. The patient died 11 days later from kidney and liver failure.

Heart transplant pioneer Christian Barnard died at the age of 79 from a heart attack while on vacation in Cyprus.