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The World's First Human-to-Human Heart Transplant

#06 Science in History

3rd December 1967


It’s 1967 and in Cape Town, South Africa, Louis Washkansky becomes the first recipient of a human heart. The 54-year-old grocer’s diseased heart was replaced with a healthy heart from 25-year-old Denise Darvall.


Denise and her mother had been crossing a road when a car driven by a drunk driver ran into them. Denise was declared brain dead on arriving at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town (her mother had died instantly).


Christiaan Bernard
Christiaan Bernard (wikipedia)

Dr Christiaan Barnard and a team of surgeons, including his brother Marcus, made history in the early hours of Sunday 3 December. After a gruelling 5-hour operation, they had succeeded in performing the world's first human-to-human heart transplant.


Washkansky passed away on 31st December - nearly three weeks after his operation. Washkansky succumbed to double pneumonia acquired because of a compromised immune system following a course of immunosuppressant medication.




Up till now, over 50,000 heart transplants have been performed across the world since Barnard's procedure - over 30,000 of them in the United States.



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