written by Alexandra Wade

The first human heart transplant was performed by Dr. Christiaan Barnard at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa, on Dec. 3, 1967. He had been trained at University of Cape Town and Stanford University in California. Lewis Washansky, a grocer dying from chronic heart disease, received the heart from Denise Darvall, who was fatally injured in a car crash.

Washansky’s heart functioned normally until his death, which came only 18 days later. He died of double pneumonia, which he contracted due to the drugs used to suppress his immune system so his body would not reject the heart. Heart transplants are more successful today, but it is still difficult to find acceptable donors. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more information about organ donation.

For more interesting history, watch the CE blog the first week of every month!