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Christiaan Barnard

Born: 8 November 1922

Died: 2 September 2001

Nationality: South African

The South African surgeon Christiaan Neethling Barnard performed the world's first human heart transplant operation in 1967 and the first double-heart transplant in 1974.

Christiaan N. Barnard was born to Dutch descendants on in Beaufort West, South Africa. Barnard then went on to the University of Cape Town, where he received a master's degree in 1953.

Barnard worked for a short time as a doctor before joining the Cape Town Medical School staff as a research fellow in surgery. With the hope of pursuing his research interests and gaining new surgical skills and experiences, he enrolled at the University of Minnesota Medical School in 1955. After two years of study he received his Ph.D. and returned to his native country to embark upon a career as a cardiothoracic (heart) surgeon.

Before Barnard left for America, he had gained recognition for research in gastrointestinal pathology, where he proved that the fatal birth defect known as congenital intestinal atresia was due to the fetus not receiving enough blood during pregnancy. Barnard proved that this condition could be cured by a surgical procedure. Upon his return to South Africa, he introduced open-heart surgery to the country, designed artificial valves for the human heart and experimented with the transplantation of the hearts of dogs. All of this served as preparation for his 1967 first human heart transplant.

Although Barnard was a pioneering cardiac surgeon, his advances were based on work that came before him. Of crucial importance was the first use of hypothermia (artificial lowering of the body temperature) in 1952, and the introduction in the following year of an effective heart-lung machine. These advances, combined with other techniques perfected in the 1960s, enabled the surgeon for the first time to operate upon a heart that was motionless and free of blood.

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