50 Years Ago This Week: Inside the First Heart Transplant

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It was a medical breakthrough generations in the making. For as long as doctors had understood the crucial role of the heart, they had dreamed of using transplants to save people whose heart problems would otherwise doom them to death. Earlier attempts, especially before the discovery of blood types, had failed. Now, in late 1967, there were suddenly not one but two real-life examples to point to.

Though one of the operations (a transplant between babies, in Brooklyn) failed, the other — performed in South Africa by Dr. Christiaan Barnard on Dec. 3, 1967 — actually worked. They were able to successfully transplant a heart donated by the family of Denise Ann Darvall, a young woman killed by a speeding car, to a man named Louis Washkansky, a grocer with progressive heart failure who had been given weeks to live. Barnard and his team had, as TIME Magazine reported, “reached the surgical equivalent of Mount Everest,” launching a half century of medical and ethical progress.

The patient, Washkansky, died a few weeks later — from illness compounded by the immune-suppression drugs he was on to avoid rejecting the new heart — but the transplant itself is still considered a success.

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About the Author:

Corey brings more than ten years of experience in corporate and non-profit fields, having worked in Communications for The Walt Disney Company and most recently, Public Relations for OurLegacy (formerly TransLife), the OPO serving Central Florida. He has also been an active board member of Donate Life Florida, serving as state team leader for the Driver License Outreach taskforce. Corey holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and Information Sciences from The University of Alabama. In his spare time, he is an avid music and theater enthusiast, enjoys traveling, Crimson Tide Football and serving on the board for several local charities in the Orlando area.
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