In December 1967, the whole world watched in amazement as a doctor in South Africa became the first to transplant a heart from one human into another. Most thought it was something out of science fiction. Though the surgery was a success, the patient lived only 18 days, dying from pneumonia. 50 years later, heart surgeons and cardiologists have learned much, and most patients live for years after the procedure.
In the video, three heart doctors from The University of Kansas Health System offer their perspective on this milestone anniversary. Dr. Travis Abicht is a transplant surgeon. He reflects on how far heart treatment has come since that milestone. He says the procedure is basically the same as it was 50 years ago, but most patients live for years thanks to much better medicine management.
Also in the video, Dr. Andrew Sauer, medical director of the Heart Failure program at The University of Kansas Health System, says while a transplant is the best option for the right patient, his goal is to help patients avoid one. He says that’s accomplished by better drug therapies such as Entresto and implanted devices that can either be a permanent fix or help critically ill patients live until they can get a transplant. Dr. Sauer also says he’s excited by what’s ahead in the next few years.
Dr. William Reed is a pioneer in heart surgery, founding the heart program at The University of Kansas Health System, and has performed more than 10,000 heart surgeries. He remembers that first transplant 50 years ago, and how it was almost 16 years later before the discovery of cyclosporine, the first anti-rejection drug that really worked. He describes the awe-inspiring feeling of performing a transplant, looking into the patient’s empty chest where the diseased heart was, sewing in the new heart, and waiting with the whole team in suspense for the first beats of the new heart. He says it was the most exciting part of his entire career. All three doctors agree the biggest challenge is finding enough donors to meet the need.
The video also includes Dr. Abicht visiting a transplant patient in his room, and video of Dr. Abicht in the operating room.