What I Like About the New Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital

Attending the official opening of the new Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital on Cape Towns Foreshore, 9-and-a-half weeks after my transplant and 49 years after the first human transplant undertaken on December 3, 1967

The flagship new Netcare hospital on Cape Town’s Foreshore to replace the existing Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital is purpose-built, with much high-tech medical equipment.

It pays tribute to Prof Chris Barnard’s legacy as a researcher and surgeon, as well as his commitment to racial integration through running open medical wards. “He refused to treat people separately – he wanted the best nurses and doctors to treat all his patients,” says Netcare chief executive Richard Friedland.

“We’re looking here not just at Chris Barnard the man, the transplant (but) also the environment within which this happened in South Africa – the background, the context and implications.”

Exhibition material throughout the hospital examines the “extraordinary times of the 1960s and ’70s”, including acknowledging the exclusion of black South Africans, both as professionals and patients, from the ambit of healthcare.

These include PAC leader Robert Sobukwe who developed lung cancer while under house arrest in Kimberley and was admitted to Groote Schuur hospital. Barnard intervened when the authorities would not allow Sobukwe to recuperate in Cape Town, ensuring that he could stay with a fellow surgeon.

“We’re talking of someone here (Barnard) of exceptional skill, of enormous academic ability… the founder of ICU care in South Africa” who would spend the whole night at the bedside of a baby on whom he had operated during the day at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital.

Friedland says Barnard’s body of work  had been building over nine years towards the first heart transplant, which occurred in 1967 from donor Denise Darval to recipient Louis Washkansky.

Artist Marco Cianfanelli has produced a stunning plywood sculpture suspended from the roof of the reception area, of the empty chest cavity at the moment that Barnard had removed Washkansky’s heart during the procedure.

“The artwork and displays should inspire in patients and visitors, a sense of confidence that they are being attended to by medical practitioners whose practice is rooted in a legacy of excellence.”

Also acknowledged is Hamilton Naki who worked initially in Cape Town as a gardener and then alongside Barnard performing heart and liver transplants, one of a multitude of black South Africans who had been denied their rightful role in healthcare in SA.

Friedland says the new facility incorporates a number of environmentally sustainable technologies, including an exterior glass skin with a void separating it from the building’s inner glass windows, electricity-generating elevators.

A racetrack design places all services including nursing stations in the centre of the floor, with three-bed wards on the periphery, all with a view to the outside, “either of the mountain or the sea or city, a beautiful view which is part of the healing atmosphere of the hospital”.

There are 248 beds including 61 beds in specialist units with some 5000 square metres of open space throughout to provide for future expansion.

To avoid infections, theatres have been placed adjacent to ICU wards on super-speciality floors. — RAY HARTLE


What I Like About the New Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital

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