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Sunday, 2 September, 2001, 20:39 GMT 21:39 UK
Pioneering heart surgeon dies
Christiaan Barnard
Barnard carried out the first heart transplant in 1967
Pioneering South African heart surgeon Christiaan Barnard has died in Cyprus, where he was on holiday.

The death of Dr Barnard, who made medical history in 1967 with the world's first heart transplant on a human patient at the Groote Schuur hospital in Cape Town, was greeted with dismay by South African leaders.

I admired him a great deal and I am sorry that he has left us

Nelson Mandela

Dr Barnard, who was 78, died at a hotel in the western resort of Paphos.

His wife raised the alarm and he was rushed to the Paphos Government Hospital, where his death was confirmed on arrival.

The Cypriot Health Minister, Frixos Savvides, said he probably died of a heart attack.

Dr Barnard and his wife in cape Town, South Africa four years ago
Dr Barnard and his wife Karin who raised the alarm
"Dr Christiaan Barnard died this morning...The causes of death are not known but the chances are that it was a heart attack or some such nature," he said.

"It was not a violent death or an accident. No foul play is suspected," said Mr Savvides.

Nelson Mandela, the former South African president, described Dr Barnard as "one of our main achievers".

"I admired him a great deal and I am sorry that he has left us," he said.

Mr Mandela's successor, Thabo Mbeki, said the surgeon should be remembered by all South Africans.

"He ought to serve as an inspiration to our people, to the youth generally, to strive for that discovery, that excellence," he said.

Clergyman's son

Christiaan Barnard, the son of a clergyman, grew up in Beaufort West, a small town in the dusty Karoo semi-desert region of South Africa.

If a lion chases you to the bank of a river filled with crocodiles, you will leap into the water

Christiaan Barnard
He studied medicine at the University of Cape Town and at the University of Minnesota. In Minneapolis he switched from general surgery to cardiology and heart-lung surgery.

In 1967, he performed the world's first human heart transplant.

The patient, 53-year-old dentist Louis Washkansky, lived 18 days before succumbing to rejection of the new heart. But Dr Barnard had already shot to international fame.

Dr Barnard in 1967
Pictured in London shortly after carrying out his first human heart transplant
Before performing surgery on Mr Washkansky Dr Barnard had spent many years experimenting with heart transplantation, operating mainly on dogs.

Mr Washkansky, who had diabetes and incurable heart disease, had an 80% chance of surviving the operation at the time.

Without the operation he faced certain death.

Playing the odds

"For a dying man it is not a difficult decision because he knows he is at the end,"Dr Barnard later wrote.

"If a lion chases you to the bank of a river filled with crocodiles, you will leap into the water convinced you have a chance to swim to the other side.

"But you would never accept such odds if there were no lion."

Rheumatoid arthritis forced him to give up surgery in 1983.

Later in his career, he switched from heart surgery to research into ways of slowing the ageing process.

He had spent his last years touring the world giving lectures and dividing his time between Europe and his farm in South Africa's Cape Province.

Dr Barnard described himself as a man who wanted to get results.

He was a frequent visitor to Cyprus.

He is survived by four children.

The BBC's James Wilkinson
"Christiaan Barnard and his team made medical history"
Sir Roy Calne of Cambridge University
"Christiaan Barnard was a very courageous surgeon"
See also:

02 Sep 01 | Africa
Medical world remembers Barnard
16 Nov 99 | Health
Heart pioneer defends record
25 Sep 98 | Background Briefings
The art of transplantation
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