Heart transplant

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 December, 2010, 12:00am

The giver

When Denise Darvall stepped out of the shop with a cake in her hands, she had no idea her name would be in the newspapers of the world. Not because of what she did, but because of what she gave. She gave someone a chance at life. Darvall and her mother were hit by a car driven by a drunk driver. Her mother died instantly. Darvall lived but was very badly injured. She died later.

The receiver

When Louis Washkansky looked out the hospital window that morning, he had no idea what he was going to receive that day. Washkansky was dying from a heart condition. His wife came to visit him. She was very sad as she knew the only way he could be saved was to get a new heart. Nobody had ever received a new heart before. On her way home, she passed by a traffic accident that would become very important in her husband's life.

The professor

Professor Christiaan Barnard was a doctor at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa. He had been learning a great deal about transplanting human organs. No one had ever transplanted a heart before. Barnard knew his patient, Washkansky, would die if he did not get a new heart. When Denise Darvall died, her father allowed her heart to be used for a transplant operation. Barnard knew he had to take the chance and do the operation.

The operation

The first heart transplant took place on December 3, 1967. The operation lasted nine hours. There were 30 people involved in the operation. Barnard's younger brother, Marius, was one of the doctors in the transplant team. The hospital theatre where the operation took place has been turned into a museum in honour of the transplant.

Patient died

Sadly, Washkansky did not live long with his new heart. He survived for only 18 days after the operation. The heart beat strongly to the end, but Washkansky died of a lung infection.

About the professor

Christiaan Neethling Barnard was born in 1922. His father was a preacher in the Afrikaans church. He grew up in a tiny, dusty, farming town called Beaufort West in the Cape Province of South Africa.

At the time of the first heart transplant, he had been married to his first wife for 20 years. They had two children. She divorced him not long after the operation.

He married three times, and had six more children, but each marriage ended in divorce. He passed away in Cyprus, Greece, on September 2, 2001, during a very bad asthma attack.

Hong Kong transplants

The first heart transplant to be done in Hong Kong took place in 1992 at Grantham Hospital. Between December 1992 and March 2001, 30 people had this operation. On October 22 this year, the first combined heart and liver transplant was done in Hong Kong. The 20-hour operation needed almost 79 medical staff. Now there are 3,500 heart transplants done every year throughout the world.

Now do this

1 Who performed the very first heart transplant?

a. Doctor Spock

b. Professor Barnham

c. Professor Barnard

2 Whose heart was given to Washkansky in the first heart transplant?

a. a woman's heart

b. a man's heart

c. an unknown heart

3 When was the first heart-lung transplant done in Hong Kong?

a. October 1976

b. October 2001

c. October 2010