Chris Barnard once said that getting old is one of life’s greatest tragedies.

Particularly hard, indeed, for a man “who lived a life worth living”. In Barnard’s last interview before his death he told Time magazine:

“The heart transplant wasn’t such a big thing surgically. The technique was a basic one. The point is I was prepared to take the risk. My philosophy is that the biggest risk in life is not to take a risk. The operation and its significance as the first of its kind took me to into another world, not just professionally but personally and socially. I loved it. I’m a guy who loves people, I love the female sex and I like to enjoy life.”

Ironically Barnard died a lonely death on 1 September 2001 in Paphos, Cyprus: after an evening swim at his hotel he collapsed and died from asthma-induced bronchial blockage. His heart was still in excellent condition.

On the day of his death Susan Vosloo, Africa’s first female heart surgeon, said: “We have lost someone who made the greatest contribution to medical history. He had a brilliant and innovative mind.”

Barnard was cremated and his ashes buried in the garden of his childhood home in Beaufort West, where the simple words “I came back home” grace his tombstone.