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A Heartfelt Miracle

The holiday season is a perfect time for miracles, and miracles that end up saving not one, but thousands of lives are especially deserving of celebration. On December 3rd, 1967 in South Africa - a far cry from a snowy New York 34th street - Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed a miracle, the first human-to-human heart transplant. Louis Washkansky, a retired grocer in his mid-fifties, had just weeks to live when he agreed to the controversial and risky surgery. The window of opportunity for a successful operation was closing, so when 24-year-old donor Denise Darvall was killed in a traffic accident, Dr. Barnard had to move quickly. On December 3rd at 2:32 A.M., Denise's heart stopped beating, and nearly three and a half hours later, a single electrical shock revived the heart within a new body. Though the operation was considered a success, Louis Washkansky unfortunately died 18 days later from pneumonia. Still, surgeons across the world recognized the potential, and this life-changing surgery was improved over the following years. Today post-operative survival for a heart transplant averages 15 years. What began as a miracle procedure in 1967 now saves thousands of lives every year.