Who amongst those of us currently living with rheumatoid arthritis will be added in the future to the list of well-known people who had RA?
Christiaan Neethling Barnard (November 8, 1922 – September 2, 2001) was a South African cardiac surgeon, famous for performing the world’s first successful human-to-human heart transplant. […]
He performed the world’s first human heart transplant operation on 3 December 1967, in an operation assisted by his brother, Marius Barnard; the operation lasted nine hours and used a team of thirty people. The patient, Louis Washkansky, was a 54-year-old grocer, suffering from diabetes and incurable heart disease. Barnard later wrote, “For a dying man it is not a difficult decision because he knows he is at the end. If a lion chases you to the bank of a river filled with crocodiles, you will leap into the water, convinced you have a chance to swim to the other side.” The donor heart came from a young woman, Denise Darvall, who had been killed in a December 2, 1967, road accident while crossing a street in Cape Town. After securing permission from Darvall’s father to use her heart, Barnard performed the transplant. Twenty years later, Dr. Marius Barnard recounted, “Chris stood there for a few moments, watching, then stood back and said, ‘It works.'” Washkansky survived the operation and lived for eighteen (18) days. However, he succumbed to pneumonia induced by the Immunosuppressive drugs he was taking. Though the first patient with the heart of another human being survived for only a little more than two weeks, Barnard had passed a milestone in a new field of life-extending surgery.
Barnard became an international superstar overnight and was celebrated around the world for his daring accomplishment. He was quite photogenic, and enjoyed the media attention following the operation. Barnard continued to perform heart transplants. A transplant operation was conducted on 2 January 1968, and the patient, Philip Blaiberg, survived for 19 months. Dorothy Fisher was given a new heart in 1969 and became the first black recipient. She lived for 12 years 6 months after the transplant. […]
Barnard retired as Head of the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery in Cape Town in 1983 after developing rheumatoid arthritis in his hands, which prevented him from operating. He then spent two years as the Scientist-In-Residence at the Oklahoma Transplantation Institute in the USA, and acted as consultant for other institutions.