Dr Christiaan Barnard is one of South Africa’s favourite sons. The cardiac surgeon made history by performing the world’s first successful human heart transplant at a Cape Town hospital in 1967. He perfected a medical procedure that has since gone on to save millions of people’s lives around the world.

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Heart surgeon Dr Chris Barnard's brother, Marius, assisted him in the world's first successful heart transplant.

Dr Christiaan Barnard always had a passion for the human heart. A renowned heart surgeon, he dedicated his life to understanding the workings of this complicated human pump.

Later, as a specialist heart transplant surgeon, Dr Chris Barnard would become the father of heart transplants, known the world-over for his fearless exploration into the world of science.

Barnard was a studious young man, completing several medical degrees, including his MB ChB, Masters in Medicine and Doctorate in Medicine before doing his internship and residency at Groote Schuur Hospital.

It was really the awarding of a two-year scholarship for postgraduate training in cardiothoracic surgery from the University of Minnesota that put Barnard on his life path. Here he met Norman Shumway, an American doctor who had pioneered heart transplant research, and learnt about the process and pitfalls of this innovative procedure.

In 1958, Barnard returned to South Africa and was appointed cardiothoracic surgeon at Groote Schuur Hospital. The years that followed were marked with many more achievements as Barnard proved himself a skilled surgeon with brilliant insights into the treating of cardiac diseases.

After the world's first successful kidney transplant in the USA in 1953, Barnard experimented with canine heart transplants. In October 1967 he performed South Africa's first kidney transplant and then two months later, the word's fist successful human heart transplant. The patient, Louis Washkansky, survived for 18 days, heralding a medical breakthrough.

Now a world-renowned surgeon, Dr Christiaan Barnard's success catapulted him into the international limelight. The media loved the South African surgeon who, with his handsome looks and alluring charm, was often referred to as the ‘film star surgeon'.

Barnard went on to perform many more transplants and pioneered other cardiac procedures, including heterotopic heart transplants. He retired as a surgeon in 1983 after developing rheumatoid arthritis and dedicated the last years of his life to anti-ageing research. Barnard died of a severe asthma attack while holidaying in Cyprus in 2001.