December 3: A Heart For Washkansky

Written by Matthew Mendez, Journalist

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December 3, 1967 CE. The first human heart transplant is performed on Lewis Washkansky, in South Africa. Afflicted with chronic heart disease and on the verge of death, the South African grocer eventually arrived in Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town. With his hands in the life of  surgeon, Christiaan Barnard, the chances of living through such an operation proved quite slim. Receiving the transplant from Denise Darvall, a 25-year-old woman fatally injured in a car accident, Washkansky’s surgery initially proved a success. However, the drugs administered to the South African, given to him to suppress his immune system and keep his heart from rejecting the transplant, backfired, exposing him to pneumonia and eventually resulting in his death. Despite the tragic ending, the operation itself proved a success, paving the way for more successful surgeries in the future.