Christiaan Neethling Barnard, the fourth of Adam and Maria Barnard’s five sons, was born on November 8, 1922 in Beaufort West, a small Karoo Town. He grew up in a happy and secure family which, while poor in material possessions, was rich in love and firm religious values. He lived up to his mother’s expectations to always be first by obtaining a first class matric and went on to attend the University of Cape Town as a medical student.
The money his parents could provide was insufficient and on discovering this Chris Barnard approached the registrar for assistance. He was given a three year scholarship, on condition he passed all his subjects There was no time for relaxation or socializing as all this time was devoted to study. He passed his first year with honors and six further years of intensive study and hard work earned him a degree, Bachelor of Medicine Surgery, in 1946. His proud parents attended his graduation ceremony.
The next year was spent at Groote Schuur Hospital as a houseman, after which he joined a private practice in Ceres, Cape. In 1951 he returned to Cape Town and joined the staff of the city hospital as Senior Resident Medical Officer. After two years he transferred to Groote Schuur Hospital as a Medical Registrar and graduated Master of Medicine in 1953. In 1954 he joined the Department of Surgery as a Registrar.
Chris Barnard was awarded the Charles Adams Memorial Scholarship in 1956. A Dazian Foundation Bursary for study in America followed. leading to two years at the University of Minnesota where from 1956 to 1958 he specialized in Cardio-Thoracic Surgery under Professor O.H Wangesteen. He graduated Doctor of philosophy in surgery and was awarded a United States Public Health grant for further work in Cardiac Surgery.
At the end of 1958 he returned to Cape Town with South Africa’s first, primitive heart-lung machine which allowed for open heart surgery to be done. He took up a post as full-time lecturer and specialist cardio-thoracic surgeon at Groote Schuur Hospital. During his time Dr. Barnard introduced intensive care nursing for patients after major surgery and developed the UCT heart values used worldwide since 1962 for replacing damaged heart values. He also developed new surgical techniques for correcting congenital and other heart defects.
In 1961 he was appointed Head of Cardio-Thoracic Surgery, became an Associate Professor the following year and was elected a fellow of the America College of Surgeons in 1963. During these years research into transplant techniques continued increasingly in UCT Medical School Laboratory and Professor Barnard traveled extensively to teaching and research centers abroad to collect data. This data was collated and applied in further research. Meanwhile the Department of Cardio-Thoracic Surgery developed a reputation as a world center for heart surgery in both adults and children.
South Africa’s first successful kidney transplant was performed by Professor Barnard in October 1967. A few months later December 3 Dr. Barnard made history by performing the world’s first human heart transplant.
He performed 53 transplants before retiring in 1983.
He died on 2nd September 2001
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