Christiaan Barnard

Born to a minister of the dutch reformed church and shunned by a majority of South African white citizens, Christiaan Barnard grew up to become the first South African cardiac surgeon to perform the first human-to-human heart transplant.


Barnard began his formal education at the University of Cape Town Medical school where he received his masters degree in 1953. Shortly after graduating Barnard began to work as a general practitioner in a small farming village near Cape Town. Two years after working as a general practitioner he was hired by Cape Town medical school as a staff researcher in surgery.

It was through his work as a staff researcher that he was able to travel to the United States to the University of Minnesota. Here he began a two year postgraduate training program in cardiothoracic surgery under the open-heart surgery pioneer Walt Lillehei (pictured below) “the father of open heart surgery”.  Barnard ended up studying under Lillehei for three years, it was under Lillehei that Barnard decided to switch his focus from general surgery to cardio-thoracic surgery

Clarence Walton Lillehei

When Barnard arrived back to South Africa, he worked as a cardio thoracic surgeon at Groote Schuur Hospital. Barnard became the first surgeon to introduce open heart surgery to South Africa. It was at Groote Schuur where Barnard designed artificial valves for the human heart and furthered his experimentation in heart transplantation.

 Louis Washkansky (recipient) and Dr. Christiaan Barnard

The opportunity to perform the  first heart transplant came on December 2nd, 1967. To counteract the body’s natural tendency to reject foreign objects, Barnard use high doses of anti-rejection drugs which allowed the patient to accept the new organ. Although the patient only went on to live for 19 days post surgery; dying of double pneumonia due to weakened immune system.  Barnard’s was praised for his surgical feat.

Featured Photo: Christiaan Barnard, PHOTOGRAPHER (unknown) source: website

Works Cited

“Christiaan Barnard Biography.” Encyclopedia of World Biography, Accessed 24 Apr. 2017.

Altman, Lawrence K. “Christiaan Barnard, 78, Surgeon For First Heart Transplant, Dies.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 2 Sept. 2001, Accessed 26 Apr. 2017.

Anonymous. “Dr Chris Barnard Performs the World’s First Human Heart Transplant.” Anonymous, 16 Mar. 2011, Accessed 26 Apr. 2017.

“PBS.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, Accessed 26 Apr. 2017.

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