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Christian Barnard - the other side
Pioneering heart transplant surgeon Chris Barnard made
his name through his work at Groote Schuur Hospital, but later "literally
turned his back" on the hospital's department of cardio-thoracic
This is the hard-hitting view of Professor Johan Brink,
head of clinical services at the department at Groote Schuur and the University
of Cape Town, and head of Groote Schuur's heart transplant programme,
in a major biography of Barnard called Celebrity Surgeon, published by
Jonathan Ball in Cape Town today.
The book, by British journalist Chris Logan, draws on
interviews with more than 100 people, including Barnard's third wife,
Karin Setzkorn, and portrays the surgeon as a philanderer, playboy, big-talker,
unofficial ambassador for South Africa during the time of the Information
Scandal, freeloader and tightwad. He could also be ruthless and cruel
to his wives, and to his older children.
But he was also a talented surgeon and medical pioneer
who, said Brink in a tribute when Barnard died, had "done more for
medicine in South African than any other person ... He put us on the world
More sharply, however, Brink, who has performed nearly
200 heart transplants at Groote Schuur, says in the book: "He could
have done a tremendous amount more to build our department up to being
a great cardiac centre - firstly while still in our department, and particularly
over the almost 20 years after he retired.
"There was no support, not only financially but
more importantly politically or influentially, for our department after
he retired - he literally turned his back on us.
"However, I do believe that his name can and should
be used to help academic medicine, cardiovascular medicine in particular
- in our university and hospital, which are going through terrible times
during the restructuring of our country in the post-apartheid era.
"Government support for high-cost medicine such
as cardiology and cardiac surgery has plummeted, and we are really struggling
to maintain the highest standards because of this.
"During Barnard's time he had a very good infrastructure
by international standards, and a high level of competence and support
in all fields of medicine at Groote Schuur and UCT on which he could build
his career successes.
"Hopefully his name will be able to 'pay back' some
of this success to cardiovascular medicine at Groote Schuur and UCT."
A new Christiaan Barnard Institute of Cardiovascular Medicine is being
set up at UCT, and the university has also renamed a research centre after
Logan comments: "Many of his former colleagues say
he could have done more during his life to create a permanent medical
"They felt then and feel now that it was an opportunity
tragically missed in the vortex of glamour, fame and global travel that
swallowed Barnard after the first heart transplant."
Other revelations in the book include:
He and fellow members of the first heart transplant team left it until
they had first heart donor Denise Darvall lying in the theatre in front
of them before debating at what point she could be regarded as dead.
Barnard was always attracted by pretty women, and was cheating on first
wife Louwtjie with nurses while researching tuberculosis at the City Hospital
for Infectious Diseases in Green Point, long before he got involved in
At the time of Barnard's death at 78 he had a close friendship with a
28-year-old blonde Viennese medical student called Gudi Heidler. The shared
a bed, but Gudi says they never had sex. Gudi also told Logan: "You
never knew when he was telling the truth because he lied a lot. He called
them 'white lies' and I forgave him because he was old."
The "piggy-back" transplant technique, in which surgeons leave
the patient's own heart in place so it can be helped by the new heart,
was inspired by a remark of Barnard's son Andre, also a doctor. Martin
Franzot, a friend of Barnard's and a second father to Andre, died on the
operating table during a heart transplant performed by Barnard. A weeping
Andre, waiting outside the theatre, demanded to know why Barnard had removed
a heart that had been at least keeping Franzot alive.
Princess Diana, who met Barnard in 1996, wrote to him to say she had fallen
in love with a heart surgeon, Hasnat Khan, and wanted to marry him. Khan
had told her he could not cope with the media attention they would have
to endure in Britain, so she asked Barnard if he could organise a job
for Khan in Cape Town. Barnard spoke to people at Groote Schuur and elsewhere,
but found hospitals were cutting back, not hiring.
Full Credit For This Story Goes To: Cape Argos