English: The old hospital building in Cape Tow...

The old hospital building in Cape Town where the first human heart transplant was done by Dr Barnard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

45th Anniversary of the First Heart Transplant

Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the first heart transplant on December 3, 1967, in Cape Town, South Africa.

The patient only lived for 18 days, but the dam was broken.

I was in college.

Three days after the first heart transplant operation, the first pediatric heart transplant was performed in Brooklyn, New York.

On January 6, 1968, the first adult heart transplant in the U.S. was performed by the doctor who invented the procedure, Dr. Norman Shumway.

For the first two years, few patients with new hearts lived more than two months.

The discovery of cyclosporine in 1970, a powerful immune suppressor, changed the odds.

By 1981, surgeons were able to perform a combined heart-lung transplant.

By 1984, two-thirds of all heart transplant patients lived more than five years.

One man lived for 31 years.

One woman has climbed Mt. Fuji, Mt. Kilamanjaro, Mt. Whitney and the Matterhorn to publicize the benefits of organ donation.

Race car driver Carroll Shelby lived for 22 years after his heart transplant.

What Can Be Donated?

Tissue, or skin, can be donated to help burn patients.

Organs that can be transplanted include the lungs, kidneys, pancreas, and liver.

We’ve had cornea transplants since 1905.

In 1998 a hand was transplanted.

In 2008, surgeons performed a double arm transplant.

In 2010, a face.

In 2011, double legs.

What Is a Daisy Chain?

The first kidney transplant was in 1954.

Now, patients live an average of 10 to 15 more years, but there are a couple of cases of people living more than 40 years.

Forty-seven percent of kidneys today are from live donors.

Kidney daisy chains were started in 2007 by a transplant surgeon, Dr. Michael Rees, of Ohio University’s Toledo Medical Center, whose initiative resulted in 10 transplants.

Someone offers to donate a kidney and an organization finds out who on the kidney waiting list is most compatible.

Then, someone who offered to donate a kidney for them but was not compatible is matched with someone else on the list.

Dr. Rees founded a non-profit to facilitate the process, the Alliance for Paired Donation.

At about the same time the National Kidney Registry was established to facilitate matching donors and those in need of a kidney, by Garet Hil, whose daughter’s kidneys had failed when she was 10.

Fifteen people offered to donate a kidney before they found a match.

The longest kidney donation daisy chain involved 30 kidney transplants, in February 2012, putting a dent in the 90,000 long waiting list for kidneys.

How Can I Help?

Now, there are about 2,000 heart transplants a year in the U.S.

3,100 are waiting. The average wait is six months to a year.

  • Check the box on your driver’s license if you are willing to be an organ donor.
  • Tell your family.
  • If you are under 18, get your parent’s permission.

It’s that easy.

When did you decide to check the organ donor box on your driver’s license?

Did you have a conversation with your parents or family first?

Have your grandchildren ever asked you what that box means?

To you and the kindness of strangers when your grandchildren are in need.


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers


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