Philip Blaiberg

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Philip Blaiberg (1909 - August 17, 1969) was a South African dentist and the second person to receive a heart transplant in the world.[1] On January 2, 1968, in Cape Town, Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the third heart transplant in the world on the fifty-nine year-old Blaiberg (Dr Adrian Kantrowitz performed the world's second heart transplant, on a baby in the USA, only three days after Dr Barnard performed the first). Blaiberg survived the operation, and continued with his life for nineteen months and fifteen days before dying from heart complications on August 17, 1969.[2] The success of Blaiberg's heart transplant spiraled the progress made in regard to heart transplantation.[3]


Blaiberg was born in the small town of Uniondale, Western Cape, in 1909. He spent much of his early life in Oudtshoorn, Western Cape, the largest town in the Little Karoo region of South Africa. As a young man, he attended the University of the Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg. Less than a year into his university studies, Blaiberg went off to London to pursue studies in dentistry.[4] After completing his studies, Blaiberg went back to Cape Town and opened up his dentistry practice. In World War II, Blaiberg joined the South African Army Medical Corps and served as the captain of the dental unit in Ethiopia and Italy.[4]

At the age of forty-five, in 1954, Blaiberg suffered his first heart attack. He subsequently ended his medicinal practice, and retired to Cape Town. In March 1967, Blaiberg's heart failed, and it appeared that he was dying. The world's first human heart transplant operation was performed months later, on December 3. With the assistance of his brother, Marius, and thirty other people, Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the nine-hour operation on Louis Washkansky, a 55-year-old man suffering from diabetes and heart disease.[5] With the transplanted heart from Denise Darvall, a victim of a road accident, Washkansky was able to survive the operation and lived for a period of eighteen days before dying of pneumonia.[5] On January 2, 1968, Blaiberg became the second person to successfully undergo a heart transplant.[6] Blaiberg received the heart from 24-year-old Clive Haupt, a multiracial black man who had collapsed on a Cape Town beach the day before.[7] That the identity of the heart donor had been released led to much heated controversy in South Africa. In the times of the apartheid, there was heated debate about the racism that existed in the country. Some conservatives even went on to say:

The relief of suffering knows no colour bar... The heart is merely a blood-pumping machine and whether it comes from a white, black or coloured man - or a baboon or giraffe, for that matter - has no relevance to the issue of race relations in the political or ideological context. The question of colour is not at issue here.[8]

Blaiberg had a smooth recovery after the successful heart transplant. Days after his operation, he was in good spirits, and had had no serious complications from the transplant. The team of doctors led by Barnard were able to treat him for the minor problems that occurred, and the doctors reduced his dosage of immunosuppressive drugs.[9] Less than three months after the heart transplant operation, he was able to drive his car.[4] Blaiberg was able to return to his normal lifestyle after the transplant, and as his wife said Philip "was running around like a machine."[10] Unfortunately, Blaiberg suffered some long-term complications of the transplant, and he died of chronic organ rejection on August 17, 1969.[6] Blaiberg's autopsy showed severe and widespread coronary artery disease, a precursor to atherosclerosis.[3]

The success of Blaiberg's transplant launched an immediate onslaught of doctors performing heart transplants all around the world. By the end of August 1968, 34 heart transplants had been performed, and by December 1968, 100 hearts had been transplanted into 98 patients.[10] As of 2001, more than 100,000 people had undergone heart transplants and the success rates of the operation were close to one hundred percent.[6]

See also


  1. "Thirtieth anniversary of heart transplants". BBC News. December 3, 1997. Retrieved 2007-02-07. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  2. "This Day In History - August 17". Retrieved 2007-02-07.
  3. 3.0 3.1 David K.C. Cooper, Denton A. Cooley (2001). "In Memoriam - Christiaan Neethling Barnard". American Heart Association. Retrieved 2007-02-07.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "Dr. Philip Blaiberg biography". Retrieved 2007-02-07.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Matzen, Grace Dominic. "Heart Transplantation". Salem Press. Retrieved 2007-02-08.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 "Definition of Heart transplant". MedicineNet. Retrieved 2007-02-08.
  7. Scheper-Hughes, Nancy (September 28, 1999). "Bodies of Apartheid: the Ethics and Economics of Organ Transplantation in South Africa". Retrieved 2007-02-08. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  8. Malan, Marais (1968). Heart Transplant: The Story Of Barnard and the "Ultimate In Cardiac Surgery". Johannesburg: Voortrekkers. pp. p. 115. ISBN 0546023208.
  9. "Philip Blaiberg". Time. January 19, 1968. Retrieved 2007-02-08. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  10. 10.0 10.1 Joseph Gustaitis (December 2002). "Frontiers of Heart Medicine". The World Almanac. Retrieved 2007-02-08.

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