Visit: Heart of Cape Town Museum, Main Road Groote Schuur Hospital, Observatory, Cape Town Central 7925 South Africa
Celebrate one of the greatest moments in medical history at the Heart of Cape Town Museum – a museum dedicated to the world’s first successful heart transplant. Visitors experience the drama of that moment in the fully restored, original operating rooms laid out as they were on the day of the operation. The medical museum also includes a timeline of events that led up to the operation and exhibitions on the donor Denise Darvall, and the surgeon Christiaan Barnard. A trained and certified tour guide will describe the electrifying events of the day with the help of silicone models and reenacting important scenes.
After being declared braindead, Denise Darvall was brought to Theatre B at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town on 3 December 1967. She was prepared for surgery, and at 03:00 her heart was harvested for transplantation. Professor Christiaan Barnard, assisted by Rodney Hewitson, proceeded to sew the donor heart into the recipients’ chest. The operation lasted four and three quarter hours, and at 06:13, the heart began beating in its new home. The Heart of Cape Town Museum honours the skill and wisdom of the transplant team, the courage of the recipient, the generosity of the donor’s father and the memory of the donor herself.
Did you know
There were several important milestones that led up to the first human heart transplant. The first of these was an operation performed on a dog on 22 July 1958. Norman Shumway and Dick Lower succeeded in bringing a dog’s heart back to life after it had stopped and been stored in saline for one hour. Six days later, Chris Barnard performed his first open heart surgery on 15-year-old Joan Pick.
Advice for visitors
At the time of this surgery, Christiaan Barnard received a lot of criticism, particularly with regard to ethics. At the Heart of Cape Town Museum, the exhibition covers Barnard’s struggle and the ethical backlash and international attention the surgery received. Another fascinating feature to take note of is the recreation of the donor recipient’s recovery. Ask the guides as much as you can about it – they are knowledgeable and some have even worked with Barnard! The tour lasts roughly two hours, and although it is a fantastic learning experience for children, pre-school age children and youngsters are not recommended as guests.