Excerpts from "the first rough draft of history" as reported in The Washington Post on this date in the 20th century.
About 2,300 hearts are transplanted each year in the United States, with 70 percent of recipients living at least four years afterward. The main problem is that there aren't enough hearts to go around. It was a different story in 1967, when South African surgeon Christiaan Barnard performed the first human heart transplant. In the following year, more than 100 transplants were done in 18 countries, with two-thirds of the patients dying within three months. Barnard's patient, Louis Washkansky, lived 18 days and died of pneumonia. An excerpt from The Post of Dec. 4, 1967:
By Alistair Clark
CAPE TOWN, South Africa, Dec. 3 --
A team of South African surgeons today successfully transplanted into a man the heart of a woman who died as the result of a car crash. The operation was the first human heart transplant in medical history.
Doctors at Groote Schuur Hospital here said the patient was conscious tonight -- 14 hours after the operation -- and was progressing well with a machine to aid his breathing.
The five-hour operation, which started at 1 a.m. local time Sunday (6 p.m. est Saturday) and ended at 6 a.m. (1 a.m. est Sunday) was performed on Louis Washkansky, 56, a wholesale grocer, who was admitted to hospital several weeks before for what doctors described as "a very bad state of heart failure."
The heart was taken from Denise Davall, 25, who died after a road accident here Saturday night. Both were white.
Leading world surgeons in the delicate art of "spare part surgery" regarded an accident victim as one of the most likely sources for a heart replacement into a living person suffering from a diseased organ.
But a successful transplant of a complete heart had so far eluded them. ...
Dr. Jacobus G. Burger, the medical superintendent at Groote Schuur Hospital -- South Africa's leading medical school -- said today the surgical team had been waiting for a suitable heart to become available which they could transplant into Washkansky.
Prof. Christiaan Barnard, who headed the team of 30 surgeons, anaesthetists, nurses and technicians, told reporters the next few days would be vital.
"The actual transplant was not really a problem, but the question of tissue rejection is the important one," he said.
[Dr. Burger was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that "the longer Washkansky goes on, the better, although that does not mean the heart will not be rejected later. The body could decide in five or ten years' time that it doesn't want this heart."] ...
In the two operations Sunday, one team removed the heart and the other transplanted it with the aid of heart machines.
An electric shock was given to the new heart to start it functioning again in Washkansky's body.