Health and Medicine

Surgery and Other Treatments

Who received the first heart transplant?

On December 3, 1967, in Capetown, South Africa, Dr. Christiaan Barnard (1922–2001) and a team of 30 associates performed the first heart transplant. In a five-hour operation the heart of Denise Anne Darvall (1943–1967), age 25, an auto accident victim, was transplanted into the body of Louis Washansky (1913–1967), a 55-year-old wholesale grocer. Washansky lived for 18 days before dying from pneumonia.

The first heart transplant performed in the United States was on a 2.5-week-old baby boy at Maimonides Hospital, Brooklyn, New York, on December 6, 1967, by Dr. Adrian Kantrowitz (1918–2008). The baby boy lived 6.5 hours. The first adult to receive a heart transplant in the United States was Mike Kasperak (1914–1968), age 54, at the Stanford Medical Center in Palo Alto, California, on January 6, 1968. Dr. Norman Shumway (1923–2006) performed the operation. Mr. Kasperak lived 14 days.

Almost no transplants were done in the 1970s because of the problem of rejection of the new heart by the recipient’s immune system. In 1969, Jean-François Borel (1933–) discovered the anti-rejection drug cyclosporine, but it was not widely used until 1983 when the FDA granted approval. Today heart transplantation is an established medical procedure with 2,212 transplants performed in 2009. The percentage of patients surviving three years is more than 80 percent.


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