Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Transubstantiation : Part Three : T minus 6 days

Chris Barnard was born in Beaufort West, a town on South Africa's semi-arid Great Karoo plateau on November 8, 1922. Along with his three brothers, he grew up extremely poor as his father was a Minister to a 'Coloured' Church.
The Karoo  was a physical and emotional and spiritual place at the heart of his life.

He attended the University of Cape Town, walking 8 miles a day from the flat he shared with his brother and sister-in-law.
He recalled that on his first day at UCT he wore trousers which were 'third-hand' and a jacket given to him by his best boyhood friend.

Before Barnard left for America, he had gained recognition for research in gastrointestinal pathology where he proved that the then fatal birth defect known as congenital intestinal atresia (a gap in the small intestines) was due to the foetus  not receiving enough blood during pregnancy. Barnard proved that this condition could be cured by a surgical procedure. 

In Minnesota he worked with one of the first usable "heart-lung" bypass machines.The National Institutes of Health, donated some $3000 to him to buy the components to ship back to Cape Town and gave him a further $6000 spread over 3 years, a fact he readily acknowledges.

On his return to South Africa, he introduced open-heart surgery at Groote Schuur hospital, designed artificial valves for the human heart, and experimented with the transplantation of the hearts of dogs. He performed the first kidney transplant in Africa, almost as a way to establish a fully fledged transplant team and unit.
All of this served as preparation for his 1967 human heart transplant.

Despite having a very religious upbringing, and with even his own writing reflecting a continuing turmoil over death and euthanasia and God and "the soul", he was still to say that , "For me the heart has always been an organ without any mystique attached to it ... merely a primitive pump."

Barnard's advances in heart surgery brought him honours from a host of foreign medical societies, governments, universities, and philanthropic (charitable) institutions. 

However he never got the Nobel Prize he felt he and his team deserved,something which irritated him to the end.

Shortly before Barnard's death, he spoke with Time magazine acknowledging that he had stood on the shoulders of those who had been working in the field for years.

"The heart transplant wasn't such a big thing surgically," he said. 
"The point is I was prepared to take the risk. 

My philosophy is that the biggest risk in life is not to take the risk."

The road to Niew Bethesda.

Click on the picture above for a link to 'Karoo space"

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