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Saturday, February 11th 2006

The 1st Successful U.S. Heart Transplant?

Almost without dispute the first successful heart transplant was done in South Africa on December 3, 1967 by Dr. Christiaan Barnard.

In the U.S. from what I can tell Dr. Adrian Kantrowitz in Brooklyn, NY attempted the first U.S. heart transplant just days after Barnard but failed. Here’s Time Magazine’s article from 1967 on the two operations.

Last week, in two hospitals separated by almost 8,000 miles of Atlantic Ocean, the historic juxtaposition happened and the heart transplants were performed. The physicians who performed them thus reached the surgical equivalent of Mount Everest, followed automatically by the medical equivalent of the problem of how to get down —in other words, how to keep the patient and transplant alive.

In this, the team at Brooklyn’s Maimonides Medical Center, headed by Dr. Adrian Kantrowitz, admitted “unequivocal failure.” Their patient, a 19-day-old boy, died 6-½ hours after he received a new heart.

But who performed the first successful U.S. transplant? I bring this up because Dr. Shumway, who may have the closest thing to a consensus in terms of the claiming the first U.S. heart transplant, has passed away.

However numerous sites, including a history collection at the University of Texas and St. Luke Hospital in Houston’s, cite Dr. Denton Cooley as performing the first U.S. heart surgery. Certainly Dr. Cooley was and is a bit of a self promoter, even at this point in his life as I heard him speak but a couple months ago.

The date cited for Dr. Shumway’s first transplant is January 1968. Dr. Cooley’s first transplant was May 1968.

So what gives? Well, one thought I’m coming up with is the definition of “success”. Dr. Shumay’s 56 year old patient survived for only 2 weeks in pretty miserable conditions. Dr. Cooley’s first attempt, just three and a half months later, lived for almost 7 months.