Education Article /  A History of Heart Transplants

A History of Heart Transplants

Posted by National CPR Association |

Jun 30, 2016

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:

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: