Hamilton Naki

BMJ 2005; 330 doi: (Published 23 June 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:1511

This article has a correction. Please see:

Unsung hero of the world's first heart transplant

When 26 year old Denise Darvall was knocked down by a car on her way to buy a cake in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1967, sustaining severe head injuries, she triggered an operation that made medical history. While she was considered brain dead when she reached hospital, her heart was healthy and kept pumping. Her body was placed in the hands of Hamilton Naki, who expertly removed her heart and gave it to Christiaan Barnard (obituary BMJ 2001:323: 696). He then transplanted it into 57 year old Louis Washkansky.

Naki's contribution was a criminal offence under the apartheid laws because he was black and the patient was white. Barnard could have been prosecuted for allowing him into a whites-only operating theatre and for allowing him to touch a white patient. Moreover, Naki was unqualified.

Hamilton Naki had joined Cape Town University and Groote Schuur Hospital as a gardener, and was rolling the grass tennis courts when, in the 1950s, the professor of surgery, Robert Goetz, asked him to step into the laboratory and …

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