The Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital (CBMH formerly the City Park Hospital) in Cape Town, is where I am currently admitted while I await final authorisation of a heart transplant.
The private hospital unit has had significant success in both heart transplants and the implanting of artificial heart pumps.
Heart transplants in South Africa are undertaken in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. There is also a public sector transplant unit at Groote Schuur Hospital – where the world’s first heart transplant was performed by Professor Chris Barnaard in 1967.
CBMH’s heart unit is a multi-disciplinary team that draws on specialist cardiologists, radiologists and technicians, nurses, social workers and psychologists. It has already completed a “work up”, a range of tests and interviews over 10 days to assess whether I am a suitable candidate for a transplant. The tests include checking if other organs will accommodate a new heart.
An application has now been lodged for medical aid approval. I will then go on the official waiting list for a donor heart.
Chris Barnard’s achievement in performing the first transplant had built on the work of scientists since the end of the 1900s, especially at Columbia and Stanford Universities. He was, by all accounts, a brilliant – if brittle – researcher and surgeon. The transplant beneficiary, Louis Washkansky, only lived with his new heart for 18 days before dying of pneumonia.
While the world hailed the first transplant, it did not automatically lead to an increase in such procedures due largely to the inability of the immunosuppressant drugs – which were then available – to counter the human body’s natural tendency to reject “foreign” objects, including donor organs.
With better drugs, heart transplant success rates began improving from the mid-1970s.
It bears remembering that doctors have been transplanting other body organs successfully for many decades.
Mechanical devices to assist the heart have also been available since at least the 1960s. The LVAD or left ventricular assist device helps people like me who suffer from cardiomyopathy or a weak heart muscle. The device has been used as a “bridge-to-transplantation” for people who have waited for a long time for a donor heart to become available but without success. Increasingly, the LVAD is being considered as a longterm treatment for those suffering cardiac failure.
City Park was remamed to CBMH in 2001 in honour of Chris Barnard. In December 2016, the hospital will relocate to new facilities on Cape Town’s Foreshore where its transplant work will continue.