Nov 8, 1922
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@Cardiac Surgeon, Timeline and Childhood
Christiaan Barnard born at
In 1948, Barnard married Aletta Gertruida Louw, a nurse. The couple had two children; Deirdre and Andre. The marriage ended in a divorce in 1969.
In 1970, he married nineteen-year-old Barbara Zoellner, an heiress. They had two children, Frederick and Christiaan Jr. This marriage also ended in a divorce in 1982.
In 1988, Barnard married Karin Setzkorn, a young model, forty years junior to him. They also had two children, Armin and Lara. This marriage too did not last long, ending in a divorce in 2000.
Christiaan Neethling Barnard was born on November 8, 1922, in Beaufort West, a small country town within the arid Karoo region of Western Cape Province in Union of South Africa. His father, Adam Hendrikus Barnard, was a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church. His mother was Maria Elisabeth de Swart.
Christiaan had three surviving siblings; two brothers named Johannes Timotheus Barnard and Marius Stephanus Barnard and a sister, Dodsley Retief Barnard. Another brother, Abraham, died at the age of three while a sister was stillborn. Marius grew up to be a noted cardiac surgeon and invented critical illness insurance.
As his father ministered to the congregation of ‘colored’ people, the family was more or less shunned by the white citizens. Moreover, his meager salary meant that they led a humble life. But their mother instilled in them a belief that they could achieve their goals if they tried wholeheartedly.
Christiaan, like his siblings, had his early education at Beaufort West High School. He was not an outstanding student, but worked hard and as a result did well in school. He was also fond of music and sports.
From the obituary published in ‘The New York Times,’ we learn that he “won a school tennis championship with a borrowed racquet and cardboard covering the holes in his sneakers”. It also says that he ran a mile in his bare feet and topped the class studying by firelight.
In 1953, Christiaan Barnard began his career as a resident surgeon at Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town. Very soon, he resumed the work he had started as an intern at the same hospital. Working with dogs, he now started investigating into intestinal atresia, a fatal disease that had hitherto killed many.
He had a hunch that that such a condition is created in a fetus because of inadequate blood supply in the intestine. He therefore began working with dog fetuses, becoming successful after nine months at the forty-fourth attempt.
He had taken a fetus out of a dog’s womb and after tying off part of the intestine to cut off the blood supply, he placed it back in the womb. When the puppy was born two weeks after the operation, it was found to have intestinal atresia.
He later removed that part of the intestine and cured the puppy of the ailment. His technique saved at least ten babies in Cape Town and later was adopted in the UK and the USA.
In 1955, Bernard received a two-year scholarship for a postgraduate training in surgery under Dr. Owen H. Wangensteen at the University of Minnesota, USA. Accordingly, he left for the USA in December and started his training from the beginning of 1956.
Christiaan Barnard is best remembered for undertaking the world’s first heart transplantation operation on a human. Until then, doctors had undertaken such operations on animals but were hesitant to try it on a human. Barnard convinced a 54-year-old terminally ill grocer to undergo the operation and replaced his heart with the heart taken from a brain dead woman.
According to many medical experts today, the fact that he chose to take the heart from a brain dead person is another of his contributions to medical science. He was also the first in this regard and it paved the way for all kinds of organ transplantation.