Blaiberg in bed

The Young Doctor

The young Barnard family with new addition baby Deidre and Louwtjie pregnant with their second child left Ceres for Cape Town. Here Barnard studied further and was awarded the MD degree for his dissertation on the treatment of patients with tuberculosis meningitis at the City Hospital for Infectious Diseases.

Chris Barnard then embarked on an intense surgical residency at Groote Schuur Hospital under the guidance of Jannie Louw, Professor of Surgery.

It was at this time that Barnard produced what was arguably his best research ever: the cause of intestinal atresia in neonates – a congenital disease that causes a blocked bowel which, if not remedied, swiftly kills the newborn.

It was this research that won Barnard a scholarship in 1956 to study cardiac surgery at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis under such medical giants as Owen Wangensteen (head of surgery), C, Walton Lillehei and Richard Varco.

In Minneapolis, Barnard’s research on intestinal atresia, “The Aetiology of Congenital Intestinal Atresia”, formed the basis of his dissertation for his Ph.D. degree. He earned his Master of Science in Surgery degree for a dissertation on “The aortic valve – problems in the fabrication and testing of a prosthetic [artificial] valve”.

His move towards the first successful heart transplant

A Ph.D. in Surgery normally requires six years of research. Barnard did it in two, thereby earning the respect and admiration of his American mentors:

“By God Chris, you made it… As a favour for me, would you reconsider your return to South Africa and stay with us?” (Owen Wangensteen)

In 1958 Barnard returned to South Africa with a heart-lung machine donated by the American National Health Institute, to develop open heart surgery at Groote Schuur Hospital. Barnard went on to establish one of the best cardiac surgical teams in the world as well as further developing prosthetic replacements for damaged aortic and mitral valves in the exciting years leading up to the world’s first human heart transplant.