Heart surgeon Chris Barnard dies on Cyprus

NICOSIA – Dr. Christiaan Barnard, who performed the world’s first heart transplant and became an international celebrity, died yesterday in a resort on the southwest coast of Cyprus. He was 78. The heart transplant pioneer collapsed in the morning as he was sitting by a swimming pool at the Coral Bay Hotel in the southwest coastal town of Paphos, said the hotel’s assistant manager. A Cypriot doctor tried to revive him with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but without success. Barnard was rushed to the Paphos General Hospital, where his death was confirmed on arrival, said Cypriot Health Minister Frixos Savvides. Savvides said the cause of death was probably a heart attack but that this would be verified in an autopsy to be conducted today. A native of South Africa, Barnard always said he was surprised by the enormous attention he received after performing the world’s first heart transplant 34 years ago. It was a very easy organ to transplant, he said. There will be much greater scientific breakthroughs in medicine because the heart transplant was not a scientific breakthrough. It was a technical breakthrough. But his globe-trotting travels suggested he liked the publicity, at least initially. He was photographed with film stars Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren, wrote popular books and owned several restaurants. [Among his many honors, Barnard was granted honorary Greek citizenship and used to say that he was proud to travel with a Greek passport.] Interviewed long after that December 3, 1967, transplant at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa, Barnard said no other medical event was likely to get as much publicity until somebody discovers how to transplant the brain. But he was forced to restrict his time in the operating room due to arthritis in the hands. Never one to dodge controversy, Barnard criticized South Africa’s white-minority government for its Apartheid policies as well as opponents of Apartheid for not recognizing the good in his country. Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s former president, reacted to Barnard’s death with shock. He was one of our main achievers, a pioneer in heart transplant and he also has done very well in expressing his opinion on… Apartheid, Mandela said.

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