MARSEILLE, France -- Emmanuel Vitria, the world's longest survivor of a human heart transplant, died today of heart failure caused by respiratory problems, his doctor said. He was 67.
Vitria became France's second heart transplant recipient in 1968 when he received the heart of a 20-year-old automobile accident victim.
Jean-Raoul Monties, one of the doctors who performed the transplant, said Vitria died quietly at 5 a.m. from "respiratory difficulties leading to cardiac arrest." Monties said the implanted heart did not appear to be at fault.
Known as "The Indestructable" by his doctors and friends, the mustachioed hairdresser exhibited remarkable health for the 18 years following his operation. Two of his greatest pleasures were swimming and bicycling.
"If I understood the Vitria mystery, I could save many human lives," Monties said. "We have just lost a man who showed the example of courage and altruism, a man zealous for giving blood, the donation or organs and research on the artificial heart."
Vitria was named a knight of the French Legion of Honor in 1982. He was the ninth person worldwide to undergo heart transplant surgery.
A team of South African doctors performed the world's first successful human heart transplant Dec. 3, 1967, but the patient died 18 days later.