Ask The Doctor

ON THIS DAY…

…IN 1967, in a five-hour operation, Dr. Christiaan Barnard, the son of a poor Afrikaner preacher, performed the world’s first successful heart transplant on a human being in Cape Town, South Africa. After years of performing experimental heart-transplant surgery on dogs, Barnard decided to risk operating on a patient named Louis Washkansky, a 55-year-old man with diabetes and incurable heart disease, who faced certain death. The donor was a woman in her mid-twenties who had been certified brain dead after a car accident.

After his medical triumph, the debonair Barnard began jetting around the globe. In true celebrity fashion, he divorced his wife of 21 years, a nurse who’d supported him while he developed his career as a surgeon, then remarried several times. In 1986, he endorsed an “antiaging” skin cream, which turned out to be, in the medical parlance of the time, “like, totally bogus.”

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