Archives For Dr. Christian Bernard

History of Organ Donation and Brain Death

There was a doctor from South Africa named Christiaan Barnard, that transplanted the first heart. Although he had also in 1967 transplanted the first kidney in South Africa, but his passion was to attempt a heart transplant.

On December 3rd, 1967, there was a young lady named Denise Darvall, who was in a horrible car accident. Her mother was killed in the accident and her father gave Dr. Christian Barnard permission to remove her heart and plant it in a 54 year old man named Louis Washkansky. Louis Washkansky lived 18 days.

Although Denise’s brain was damaged, her heart was not. She was alive by the traditional, long term definition of death.

It made national news at the time. I was 16 years old and remember watching it on the news,and seeing the Time Magazine cover page. I did not understand the future implications of what was really transpiring. At 16 I was mostly interested in boys and cheerleading however, I do remember the news.

The media was told by Dr. Christian Bernard, that he waited for the heart to stop before cutting it out.

It was a lie.

It took forty years later for the public to be informed it was a lie.

Dr. Bernard had injected potassium in Denise’s heart to paralyze it, making her dead by the current criteria on death.(Donald McRae, Every Second Counts: The Race to Transplant the First Human Heart, New York, Putnam, 2006, p. 335.)

She was alive before her heart was taken and then she was dead.

It is still the same today.

Upon the death of Dr. Barnard in September 2001,Dr. Norman E Shumway of Stanford University said,”Without Dr. Barnard’s initial use of the brain-dead patient, we could not have gone ahead to make heart transplants a standard therapy. It was a monumental advance, more societal perhaps than medical, because it applied to all organ transplants.”

Not to be undone by South Africa having the first transplant, a group of 13 men met at Harvard University to define irreversible coma.

That will be the post tomorrow.