On 3 December 1967, South African doctor Dr Chris Barnard, performed the world’s first human to human heart transplant at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town.

The recipient was Louis Washkansky, a fifty three year old grocer with a debilitating heart condition. Washkansky received the heart of Denise Darvall, a young woman who was run over by a car on 2 December and had been declared brain dead after suffering serious brain damage.

After a decade of heart surgery, Barnard and his gifted cardiothoracic team of thirty, which included his brother Marius, pushed the boundaries of science inside Charles Saint Theatre at Groote Schuur Hospital.

The operation started shortly after midnight on a Saturday night and was completed the next morning just before 6 AM. When the new heart was placed into Washkansky’s chest, it was electrically shocked into action.

After regaining consciousness Washkansky was able to talk and on occasion and to walk but his condition deteriorated and died of pneumonia eighteen days after the heart transplant.

In 2017, half a century later, new technology from the very same hospital has received international acclaim. A team from the Groote Schuur Hospital, the University of Cape Town and Strait Access Technology has developed a heart valve that could change millions of people’s lives.

Made of plastic, the valve can be inserted in a minimally invasive procedure. Developed over 8 years, it is designed to repair or replace diseased heart valves.

Groote Schuur Hospital has set up the ‘Heart of Cape Town Museum’ which honours those who played a leading role in the surgical feat. Theatres A and B are the original theatres and have been recreated to display an authentic representation of the ground breaking operation.