Christiaan Neethling Barnard (November 8, 1922 – September 2, 2001) was a South African cardiac surgeon, famous for performing the world's first successful human-to-human heart transplant.
Following the first successful kidney transplant in 1953, in the United States, Barnard performed the first kidney transplant in South Africa in October 1967. Barnard experimented for several years with animal heart transplants. More than 50 dogs received transplanted hearts. With the availability of new breakthroughs introduced by several pioneers, amongst them Norman Shumway, several surgical teams were in a position to prepare for a human heart transplant. Barnard had a patient willing to undergo the procedure, but as with other surgeons, he needed a suitable donor.
He performed the world's first human heart transplant operation on 3 December 1967, in an operation assisted by his brother, Marius Barnard; the operation lasted nine hours and used a team of thirty people. The patient, Louis Washkansky, was a 54-year-old grocer, suffering from diabetes and incurable heart disease. Barnard later wrote, "For a dying man it is not a difficult decision because he knows he is at the end. If a lion chases you to the bank of a river filled with crocodiles, you will leap into the water, convinced you have a chance to swim to the other side." The donor heart came from a young woman, Denise Darvall, who had been killed in a December 2, 1967, road accident while crossing a street in Cape Town. After securing permission from Darvall's father to use her heart, Barnard performed the transplant. Twenty years later, Dr. Marius Barnard recounted, "Chris stood there for a few moments, watching, then stood back and said, 'It works.'" Washkansky survived the operation and lived for eighteen (18) days. However, he succumbed to pneumonia induced by the Immunosuppressive drugs he was taking. Though the first patient with the heart of another human being survived for only a little more than two weeks, Barnard had passed a milestone in a new field of life-extending surgery.