The Heart Museum, known as the Heart of Cape Town Museum, celebrates the drama of the world’s first heart transplant in 1967.
The operation was led by Professor Christiaan (Chris) Neethling Barnard in the Charles Saint Theatre at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town.
The patient was Louis Washkansky and the donor was Denise Darvall.
The transplant was a medical breakthrough and is widely recognised as one of the greatest moments in medical history.
All those who played a major role in this feat are honoured in the museum.
A guided tour relates the chain of events leading to the ultimate operation, which catapulted Prof. Barnard to fame and paved the way for the future of cardiac surgery.
A and B theatres are the original General Surgery theatres used for the first heart transplant. Everything in them is laid out to create a fully authentic representation of the pioneering operation of 3 December 1967.
After having been declared brain dead, Denise Darvall was brought to Theatre B, the donor theatre, shortly after midnight. She was prepared for surgery and at 03.00 a.m. her heart was eventually excised for transplantation into the recipient Louis Washkansky who lay waiting in the adjoining Theatre A.
In Theatre A Chris Barnard, assisted by Rodney Hewitson, carefully sewed the donor heart into place in Washkansky’s chest. In total the operation lasted four and three quarter hours. At precisely 06.13 a.m. Washkansky’s new heart began to beat strongly and Professor Chris Barnard looked with shining eyes at his team and said in Afrikaans “Dit gaan werk!” – “It’s going to work!”
Life is the joy of living; it is the celebration of being alive. I realised what medicine is all about. Medicine must give the patient something to celebrate.
When medicine cannot do this anymore, then the goal of medicine must be to allow the patient to die as quickly and painlessly as possible.
Professor Christiaan Barnard - The life of a Legend
The theatres that were used for this operation have been kept to look as they did that day and that includes the models of the people that were there that day.
09:00 - 17:00 daily 7 days a week
Guided tours 09:00, 11:00, 13:00, 15:00, 17:00
(Bookings essential during weekdays as they do many school tours)
021 404 1967 (very nifty)
Groote Schuur Hospital,Observatory, Cape Town
Barnard practiced his techniques on stray sick dogs.
This is a replica of the theatre where Chris Barnard was preparing Louis Washkansky to receive the donor heart.
The sterilisation room between the two operating theatres.
The theatre where Chris Barnard's brother, Dr Marius Botha removed the donor, Denise Darvall's heart.
Louis Washkansky recuperating after the operation.
The silicon models really do look lifelike with even the hair on the legs of the model of Louis Washkansky.