The heart plays an essential role in the circulatory system by acting as a pump that drives blood to supply all the organs and tissues of the body. Far from being the center of deep emotions, as it is often portrayed, the heart nevertheless functions to sustain life. It is affected by many factors, including intense emotions, environment, lifestyle habits, and genetics. Serious diseases and disorders of the heart may compromise its ability to function properly and may threaten life. The most serious condition is also known as end stage heart failure, in which no amount of medical treatment can help to restore its function. Fortunately, medical geniuses such as Dwight Harkin, Christiaan Barnard, and Norman Shumway have developed technologies to perform human heart surgeries and heart transplant surgery, which continues to save the lives of patients who have no other options.
Heart Transplants: A History that Spans a Century
The history of heart surgery spans more than a hundred years and has seen many challenges and triumphs, including the treatment of various congenital heart defects, the development of the heart-lung machine, animal and artificial heart transplantation, and finally, human heart transplantation. Dr. Norman E. Shumway (known as the “Father of Heart Transplantation”), performed the first successful cardiac transplant in 1968 at the Stanford University School of Medicine. However, before this landmark event, many other scientists and physicians contributed to the development of the surgery, including those who initially worked on animals and those who attempted to transplant other organs such as the kidneys. Dr. Christiaan Barnard, a South African cardiac surgeon, was the first to perform a successful kidney transplant in 1953 and was also the first to perform a human heart transplant in 1967 in South Africa. The development of immunosuppressant drugs, which help prevent the body’s rejection of transplanted organs, was also an important factor in the ultimate success of these surgical procedures. Today, the only factor that limits the number of people whose lives are saved by cardiac transplants is the availability of healthy heart donors.
Here are some resources that will help describe the interesting history of heart transplants:
- Cardiac Transplantation: The Early Years
- A Brief History of Heart Transplantation
- History of Heart Transplants
- Timelines of History: Heart Transplants
- Heart Transplant History
- Norman Shumway, Heart Transplantation Pioneer (USA)
- Christiaan Barnard, MD
- UK’s first heart transplant
The first attempts to transplant human hearts extended the lives of ailing patients for only short periods of time, but these paved the way for further research, which has brought medical science to where it is today. Here are some of the dramatic stories regarding the success of human heart transplants:
Heart Transplant Programs
There are many organizations and institutions that are currently helping patients to find treatment options for their heart failure problems. Whether you are in need of a heart or other organ donor, or you want to volunteer to be an organ donor to help other people, these resources can link you to the right places for more information:
- Loma Linda University Medical Center Transplantation Institute. Laid the groundwork for future heart transplantation in infants worldwide, after the heart of a young baboon was transplanted into newborn Baby Fae, who lived for 20 days.
- Emory Healthcare Heart Transplant Program. Performed the first cardiac transplant in Georgia, and has since completed more than 700 heart transplants.
- Cleveland Clinic Heart Transplant Program. Voted best in the “Annual Best Hospitals Survey” by the S. News & World Report.
- Columbia University Heart Transplant Service. The largest heart transplant program by volume in the US.
- Johns Hopkins Comprehensive Transplant Center. Among the top hospitals for cardiology and heart surgery, according to U.S. News & World Report.
- Wisconsin Children’s Hospital Heart Transplant Program. The only program of its kind in Wisconsin.
- Boston Children’s Hospital Heart Transplant Program. Ranked number one in the country by the U.S.News & World Report.
- UCSF Medical Center Heart Transplant Program
- Mayo Clinic Heart Transplant Center
- UCLA Heart Transplant Program. Has performed more than 2,000 heart transplants since 1984.
- Cedars-Sinai Heart Transplant Program. One of the largest heart transplant programs in the US with high one-year survival rates.
- UPMC Heart Transplant Program. The 2nd transplant program in the world to perform 3,000 heart and lung transplants.
- Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center Heart Transplant Program. Completed the first implantation of an artificial heart in a human (1969).
- Stanford Health Care Heart Transplant Program. Boasts of more than 50 years of research and patient care experience.
- Nebraska Medical Center Heart Transplant Program. The only medical center in Nebraska with a nationally certified heart specialist in heart failure, and having both an integrated Joint Commission-certified heart failure program and a Medicare-designated heart transplantation program.
- Duke Medicine Heart Transplant Program. Recognized as one of the highest performing cardiac transplant centers by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- University of Michigan Cardiac Transplant Program. The leading high-volume heart transplant center in Michigan.
- University of Southern California Heart Transplant Program. Headed by Dr. Vaughn A. Starnes, a world-recognized leader and innovator in cardiothoracic surgery and heart transplantation.
- Louis Children’s Hospital Heart Transplant Program. One of the most active heart transplant programs for children in the US.
- Children’s Hospital Colorado Heart Transplant Program. One of the largest in the world, a leader in heart transplantation for babies, children and teens, with one of the highest survival rates in the nation.
- Montefiore Medical Center Heart Transplant Program. The pioneer in treating disorders of heart rhythm, and a leader in minimally invasive heart procedures and use of VADs (ventricular assist device) for heart failure treatment.