Heart of Cape Town Museum - Atlas Obscura

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Heart of Cape Town Museum

Groote Schuur Hospital

The first successful human heart transplant is depicted through wax figures at the hospital where it the surgery took place. 

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The first successful human-to-human heart transplant surgery was a remarkable feat and one of the most publicized events in medical history. This small museum within the hospital where the procedure took place tells the story of this event and the doctor behind it.

The procedure was performed by Professor Christiaan Neethling Barnard on December 3, 1967 at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa. Barnard and his team transplanted the heart of a 25-year-old woman, Denise Darvall, who had been hit by a car while crossing the street to buy a cake. Her heart went to Louis Washkansky, a 53-year-old man who was dying from chronic heart disease. Washkansky survived the procedure, but died from a lung infection and pneumonia just 18 days after the surgery.

Fortunately, Barnard did not give up. He and his team found more success over the years, as they refined their technique, making major contributions to the field of organ transplantation. Today, thousands of heart transplants are done every year around the world.

The Heart of Cape Town Museum is a sectioned-off part of the hospital. The rooms have been kept in the original state with wax dummies posing as the operation crew. There are many photos and letters exposed in the museum, as well as a pair of Bernard’s boots.

Know Before You Go

The museum is open Monday to Friday, from 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. See the museum website for prices. 

In partnership with KAYAK

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