Christiaan Barnard

A man who followed his heart. As a surgeon he achieved a medical breakthrough that would help countless people go on to lead long and healthy lives.

Christiaan Neethling Barnard was born on 8 November 1922 in Beaufort-West in South Africa. Although the son of a protestant missionary, he decided against putting his faith in God’s hands, instead choosing to study medicine and help his fellow man.
After completing his studies in Cape Town, he went on to become the first surgeon to perform a successful heart transplant in 1967. An operation that brought various complications, and not just from a medical point of view. It also raised various ethical questions such as whether the supposed seat of the soul should be moved from one body to the other.

But people’s reservations quickly evaporated with the success of his operation. With the support of a 31-strong team he transplanted the heart of a 25-year-old man who had died in a car accident. Although the recipient only lived with the donor heart for 18 days, the procedure represented a major medical breakthrough, which continues to save lives to this day. After retiring, he set up the Christiaan Barnard Foundation for children with heart defects – showing how big a heart one man can have, all the way through to his death in 2001.