He became the hero the world needed: the committed, “good doctor” who could pull patients back from where they were teetering on the brink of death, who could give them new hearts – that magical symbol of love and life – and who could give them their lives back.

What’s more, at the age of 45 – when he became world famous after the first heart transplant – he looked incredibly young for a professor. His boyish good looks and natural charm did the rest. He dined with movie stars, spent time in the company of princes and princesses, was praised by almost every country on the planet, was crowded by fans at airports, and was revered everywhere he went.

His name was linked to those of Gina Lollobrigida, Sophia Loren and Francoise Hardy. He danced with Princess Grace, conversed with Prince Charles, and was entertained by the Shah of Iran as well as President Lyndon B. Johnson of the United States.

Years after the first heart transplant, many foreigners knew of South Africa because they linked the country to the names Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town and Chris Barnard.

First heart transplant recorded: 2/3 December 1967 Patient: Louis Washkansy

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