Heart Health

03 December 2007

Heart of Cape Town Museum opens

The new Heart of Cape Town Museum opened its doors today at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the world’s first heart transplant.

The new Heart of Cape Town Museum opened its doors today at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the world’s first successful human heart transplant.

The museum is situated in the original operating theatres where the late Professor Christiaan Barnard and his team performed this pioneering medical procedure on 3 December, 1967.

Museum situated in working hospital
Set to become one of the city's main tourist attractions, the museum is believed to be the only one in the world housed in a working hospital.

"An investment of more than R4 million was made to ensure that this museum can compete with the best in the world. No expense or trouble has been spared to create an experience that will stay with the visitor forever," says curator Hennie Joubert.

He notes that the collections work together to reconstruct, date, illustrate and explain all the events before, during and after the first human heart transplant. The original operating theatres have been fully restored and equipment, furniture and other objects were sourced from all over the country – a process that took more than 5½ years.

The museum tells the story of how 25-year-old Denise Darvall and her mother were knocked while crossing a street in Salt River, how the dying Denise was rushed to Groote Schuur Hospital and how her father gave consent to donate her heart to Louis Washkansky, who suffered from an incurable form of heart disease.

It also tells of the international race among leading surgeons to be the first to perform a human heart transplant, how Chris Barnard, a good-looking, young doctor from South Africa pipped them to the post, and of the envy and controversy that ensued.

Museum highlights
Some of the highlights of the museum include:

  • a full reconstruction of the operating room on the day of the procedure, complete with original equipment and silicone mannequins, each resembling a member of the original team – several of whom are still alive today;
  • a perfect reconstruction of Chris Barnard’s office, with a silicone version of the man himself sitting behind his original desk, in his own suit (see picture below);
  • an auditorium where visitors can watch a documentary on the events of the time; and
  • a display of the actual donor and recipient hearts.

On completion of the two-hour guided tour, visitors are given the opportunity to register as organ donors. Each visitor will also receive a commemorative DVD.

Museum visiting hours are from Monday to Saturday and tours are conducted every two hours on the hour. Call (021) 404 1967 to book your tour. The entrance fee is R200 per person (discounts apply for education institutions).

- (Health24 & MediaVision, December 2007)

Read more:
The race to be world first


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