First Heart Transplant Surgery

Cover of Dec. 11, 1967 issue of Time magazine featuring Dr. Christiaan Barnard, the first surgeon to perform a human heart transplant. (Image via

On this date in 1967, the first successful heart transplant surgery took place.

Here are some things you may not have known about heart and other organ and tissue transplants.

The first successful tissue transplant was a skin graft from one part of the patient’s body to another in 1823. In 1905 the first successful cornea transplant took place. The first successful organ transplant was a kidney in 1950. In 1954, the first living related kidney transplant took place. 1966 saw the first transplant of a pancreas, followed by a liver transplant and a heart transplant a year later.

The idea of organ transplantation was first made by American medical researcher Simon Flexner in 1907. In 1945, a Soviet scientist transplanted a heart from one frog to another, and from one dog to another; both subjects survived. In 1964, a doctor in Jackson, Mississippi, transplanted the heart of a chimpanzee into a human, who lived only 90 minutes after surgery.

In 1967 in Cape Town, South Africa, Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the first heart transplant on Louis Washkansky. Washkansky died 18 days after the transplant of pneumonia brought on by a weakened immune system. Early on, patients didn’t survive long after surgery, with organ rejection being among the top causes of death. One of the pioneers of the procedure, Dr. Norman Shumway of Stanford Hospital in California, was the only American surgeon to continue performing the surgery after the rough start. He would go on to make several other advances including the use of powerful immunosuppressant drugs to prevent rejection.

Today more than 3,500 heart transplants are performed each year. The average post-surgical survival period is about 15 years. John McCafferty of England is the longest-surviving heart transplant recipient, having underwent the procedure in October 1982.

Our question, which former vice president of the United States received a heart transplant?

Today is International Day of People with Disabilities. It’s also Doctors’ Day in Cuba and Lawyer’s Day in India. Today is unofficially National Roof Over Your Head Day. It’s the birthday of author Joseph Conrad, singer Maria Callas and musician Ozzy Osbourne.


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