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First Successful Transplant

First Successful Transplant

Heart Transplant History: The First Successful Transplant

When Was the First Successful Transplant of a Heart?

The first successful transplant of a heart from a human donor to a recipient took place in Cape Town, South Africa in 1967. Louis Washkansky, a 53-year-old grocer with incurable heart disease, received the heart of Denise Darvall, who had been in a car accident the day before the surgery. With a 30-person surgical team, Christiaan Barnard performed the transplant, leading to the rapid advancement of life-saving transplant techniques. These techniques led to successes, such as the first replacement of a heart with a Total Artificial Heart to take place in Pittsburgh, PA, performed at Allegheny General Hospital (AGH), part of the WPAHS, on February 17, 2012.

What Led to the First Successful Transplant?

This heart transplant was successful because Washkansky’s body didn’t reject the transplanted organ, thanks to immunosuppressive drugs. The immunology research that led to these life-saving drugs included the work of Paul Ehrlich, who discovered antibodies and antigens during his immunology research. Ehrlich won the 1908 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine. In 1958, Dr. Keith Reemtsma demonstrated in the lab that immunosuppressive drugs could prolong survival after heart transplant.

How Did the First Successful Transplant Change Medicine?

Unfortunately, Washkansky died of pneumonia 18 days after the heart transplant, but the first successful transplant of a heart encouraged surgeons to develop the methods that allowed the first successful pediatric heart transplant in 1984 and now saves more than 2,000 lives in the United States each year. Improved techniques enable nearly half of patients who receive the gift of a new heart to survive 10 years after their surgery.

If you would like to know more about heart transplant surgery, you can read What You Should Know about Heart Transplant and Heart Transplant Life Expectancy.