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December 3, 1967: First Successful Human Heart Transplant

1967 First Successful Human Heart Transplant

On December 3rd, 1967, medical history was made. Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa played host to the first successful human heart transplant surgery. 53-year-old Lewis Washkansky received the heart of 25-year-old Denise Darvall, who was in a fatal car accident.

The surgeon was Christiaan Barnard. He had read about a procedure performed in the United States in the 1950s which was the first successful mammal heart transplant surgery. It was successfully executed in 1958 on a dog.

In order to get Washkansky’s body to accept the new heart, he was given immune suppression drugs. Unfortunately, this lead to his death from double pneumonia 18 days later. The good news is that this created an improved arsenal of anti-rejection drugs in the 1970s, and today successful heart transplant surgeries are regularly performed!

As a reminder, a heart transplant is a surgical procedure performed to remove the diseased heart from a patient and replace it with a healthy one from an organ donor. In order to remove the heart from the donor, two or more doctors must declare the donor brain-dead.

Before a person can be put on a waiting list for a heart transplant, a doctor makes the determination that this is the best treatment option available for the person’s heart failure.

The heart is the hardest working muscle in the human body. Located almost in the center of the chest, the adult human heart is about the size of a fist.

At an average rate of 80 times a minute, the heart beats about 115,000 times in one day or 42 million times in a year. During an average lifetime, the human heart will beat more than 3 billion times, pumping an amount of blood that equals about 1 million barrels. Even when a person is at rest, the heart is continuously hard at work.


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