Only a few decades ago, if your heart failed, this meant sure death. Now, you have a fair chance of survival because physicians can provide you with another person’s heart. The outstanding person who made this happen was the South African surgeon Christiaan Barnard, the person whose life and achievement we will speak about today. Doctor Barnard demonstrated the commitment to serving people from his very early years throughout his employment as family doctor and surgeon, crowning his professional career with the first in history heart transplant surgery. First, I will talk about Christiaan Barnard’s early years, already marked with severe concentration and effort. Second, we will review the events that led to the famous operation.
Third, we will see how Doctor Barnard continued to show devotion to medicine in the years after.
First, let us look at Doctor Barnard’s childhood and youth that exemplify his persevering spirit and dedication to work. A person exploring the early years of Christiaan Barnard will see that an outstanding person can make one’s way to science starting from very modest circumstances.
Doctor Barnard was born in 1922 into the family of an Afrikaner priest in Beaufort West, a settlement situated on Great Karroo plateau, an area notable for its arid climate. His parents were poor and had four children, but this did not prevent Christiaan from obtaining an education in the profession of his choice. After being an excellent student at the school, he preceded to study medical science at the Medical School of the University of Cape Town. During his college years, Barnard every day covered a distance of five miles on foot to get to the school. With his ability, he was able to get a 3-year scholarship that helped him meet the tuition expense. Although facing a problem with language, as his mother tongue was Afrikaans and the classes were in English, Christiaan overcame this barrier.
Next, we will look at the events that have led to the breakthrough heart transplant operation.
Although starting out as a family physician, Christiaan recognized that he could make a more significant contribution working in surgery, and with this purpose went to the US in the 1950s to pick up the latest cardiac surgery methods. By the time of his revolutionary operation in 1967, he was a renowned surgeon at the Groote Schuur Hospital, famous for his experiments on animals.
Doctor Barnard was not afraid to meet challenges. He acknowledged later on: “For me, the heart has always been an organ without any mystique attached to it … merely a first pump” (BBC 2001). He proved this is performing the first heart transplant on 3 December 1967, replacing the heart of 55-year-old Louis Washkansky, the man affected by diabetes and heart failure, with that of 25-year-old Denise Darvall, who had lost her life in a car crash. Although Washkansky died a few days later of a lung infection, the operation proved a breakthrough in the history of medicine, paving the way for other transplant surgeries.
Now, let us see what happened in the years following the 1967 famous surgery. In the following years, Christiaan Barnard continued to perform heart transplants, with many of his operations being more successful than the first one. Committed to innovation, he introduced more new cardiac techniques into the field. The list includes “double transplants, joining a healthy heart to the patient’s to create a “double pump,” designing artificial heart valves and using monkeys’ hearts to keep alive desperately ill people” (BBC 2001). These methods meant serious developments in health care, meaning more chances for people with heart problems. Barnard also popularized medicine and scientific discovery by writing books about this subject, including his thrilling book about transplants. In his later years, he focused his efforts on working at the Baptist Medical Centre in Oklahoma where he tried to find a medicine that would stop the aging process.
This speech has covered the life of an outstanding person who has made a significant contribution to medical science, fundamentally improving the prospects of those with heart problems. First, we have talked about Christiaan Barnard’s early years and his difficult path toward a medical career.
Second, we have looked at his pioneering transplant surgery. Third, we have covered his activities after his name became famous throughout the world. Christiaan Barnard can serve as an inspirational example to many young people who want to contribute, saving and enriching human lives, as he has demonstrated outstanding commitment, perseverance, and courage in his professional work.
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