The battle for hearts and mindsBMJ 2009; 339 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.b3566 (Published 02 September 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b3566
- Alfred Browne, former medical correspondent, Press Association
A “gee whiz” response by the press to the most famous of all medical operations, the first human heart transplantation, turned what should have been just a medical first step into a lasting, headline grabbing phenomenon, Ayesha Nathoo claims in Hearts Exposed. Nathoo, a research fellow at Clare Hall, Cambridge University, says that lavish publicity and a lack of critical medical analysis hyped up public expectations over the operation—carried out by the South African surgeon Christian Barnard on Sunday 3 December 1967. A worldwide rush by surgeons to repeat the operation, when medical knowhow was lacking, resulted in a moratorium on the operation by the end of 1969, not lifted for a decade.
Nathoo discloses that when the BBC decided to cover the operation on a science entertainment programme, Tomorrow’s World, its producers were told to emphasise “gee-whizzery.” Two months after Barnard’s two operations, 10 million viewers watched Dr Barnard Faces …