When Was the First Human Heart Transplant Carried Out?
One of the first mentions of the possibility of heart transplantation was by American medical researcher Simon Flexner, who declared in a reading of his paper on “Tendencies in Pathology” in the University of Chicago in 1907 that it would be possible in the then-future for diseased human organs substitution for healthy ones by surgery — including arteries, stomach, kidneys and heart.
Norman Shumway is widely regarded as the father of heart transplantation although the world’s first adult human heart transplant was performed by a South African cardiac surgeon, Christiaan Barnard, utilizing the techniques developed and perfected by Shumway and Richard Lower.
The first human heart transplant took place on December 3, 1967 at Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa. A team of 20 surgeons, headed by Dr. Christiaan Barnard, operated on Louis Washkansky, aged 55, using the heart of a 24-year-old donor, Denise Ann Darvall, who had been killed in a road accident.
Both the donor and the recipient were of the same blood group and the heart was kept in cooled oxygenated blood for more than three hours before transplantation. The operation took five hours and the new heart was only half the size of Washkansky’s. The operation itself was a success, and within a few days Washkansky was sitting up, eating and talking happily.
The doctors were anxious about transplant rejection by the body and also post-operative infection which, in fact, did kill Washkansky within a month of the transplant.
Adrian Kantrowitz performed the world’s first pediatric heart transplant on December 6, 1967, at Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn, New York, barely three days after Christiaan Barnard’s pioneering operation. Since the 19-day-old infant died little more than six hours after receiving the heart, this operation was considered a failure. Norman Shumway performed the first adult heart transplant in the United States on January 6, 1968, at the Stanford University Hospital.
In January 1968 a second transplant was carried out on Philip Blaiberg, a 58-year-old dentist, who subsequently overcame a severe liver infection and lung condition, thought to be the result of his body trying to reject the new heart. By the end of 1968 more than 100 transplants had been carried out in the United States, Britain, France, India, South America, Canada, Czechoslovakia and Israel. More than 40 patients survived.
Blaiberg remained alive until August 17, 1969 and other patients survived for up to two and a half years, but the number of operations declined. From December 1970 to May 1971 only six operations were performed. Caution took the place of optimism.
On 9 June 1984 “JP” Lovette IV of Denver became the world’s first successful pediatric heart transplant. Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center surgeons transplanted the heart of 4-year-old John Nathan Ford of Harlem into 4-year-old JP a day after the Harlem child died of injuries received in a fall from a fire escape at his home. JP was born with multiple heart defects. The transplant was done by a surgical team led by Dr. Eric A. Rose, director of cardiac transplantation at NewYork–Presbyterian Hospital. Drs. Keith Reemtsma and Fred Bowman also were members of the team for the six-hour operation.
Worldwide, about 3,500 heart transplants are performed annually. The vast majority of these are performed in the United States (2,000–2,300 annually). Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California, currently is the largest heart transplant center in the world, having performed 132 adult transplants in 2015 alone. About 800,000 people have NYHA Class IV heart failure symptoms indicating advanced heart failure.
The great disparity between the number of patients needing transplants and the number of procedures being performed spurred research into the transplantation of non-human hearts into humans after 1993. Xenografts from other species and artificial hearts are two less successful alternatives to allografts. Most published surgical methods of HT necessarily divide the Vagus nerve and thus amputate parasympathetic control of the myocardium.