Health & Medicine

Saturday, 23 July 2011 14:28

National Transplant Day - 42nd Anniversary of the First Heart Transplant

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South Africa is a world leader in the field of organ transplantation. On 3 December 1967 Professor Christiaan Barnard performed the world’s first heart transplant at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town. 2009 marks the 42nd anniversary of this momentous event, however, despite the tremendous spirit of optimism created by this breakthrough; the majority of South Africans have yet to commit themselves to becoming organ donors.
There are currently approximately 3,500 people awaiting organ and cornea transplants in South Africa today. Tragically less than 1,000 will receive a transplant and the "Gift of Life" this year.

Lian Marais, a nine month old baby boy is in desperate need of a life-saving heart transplant. Lian was born on 28 January 2009 at Netcare Pretoria East Hospital. At 3.6kg and 50cm long, Lian was a healthy baby boy. On 5 March his parents took him to Netcare Pretoria East Hospital as he had been ill for 2 days. After many tests the paeditrician picked up an abnormality and he was taken to intensive care. He was diagnosed with biventricular heart failure and he was placed on a ventilator and taken to Netcare Sunninghill Hospital. From there, Lian was transferred to the paediatric ICU at Netcare Unitas Hospital for further treatment. He was stabilised and after 5 days he was able to breathe on his own and started bottle feeding soon after that. Lian’s condition worsened and it was decided that a heart transplant was a suitable option for him. In September 2009 he was referred to the Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital where his family met the team, did the necessary tests and discussed the results. At the moment his heart function is good but the damage is too far gone. A heart transplant is the only option for Lian to survive.

Lian is the youngest child in the country currently on the waiting list for a heart transplant. There are another 4 children like Lian who are desperately awaiting a second chance at life.

The Organ Donor Foundation urgently appeals to the public to become organ donors. Please contact the Organ Donor Foundation for more information on how to be an organ donor. By reaching more South Africans, we hope to increase the number of organ donors and ultimately the number of transplants performed annually. This will bring hope for a second chance in life to many critically ill patients on transplant waiting lists.

Most organ donors are from grieving families who often take comfort in the knowledge that they were able to give life to another, through the donation of their loved one’s organs and tissue. The need for hearts, kidneys, lungs, pancreas, livers, and corneas is crucial in this country.

The Organ Donor Foundation would like to appeal to all South Africans to call their toll free information line 0800 22 66 11 for more information about becoming an organ donor or visit our website


1. If members of the public want to find out more information about organ donation and how to become an organ donor, please visit – or call Toll Free 0800 22 66 11.

2. In order to become an organ donor one should apply to the Organ Donor Foundation for an organ donor card and stickers – these are placed on one’s driver’s license and ID book.

3. MOST IMPORTANT: It is important for the potential organ donor to inform his / her next-of-kin about their decision as ultimately the family gives final consent for the procurement of organs.

4. Organ transplants are carried out throughout South Africa, in government and private hospitals on critically ill patients requiring the following organs – hearts, lungs, livers, pancreas and kidneys. In addition, the following tissues can be transplanted – corneas, heart valves, skin and bone.

5. For further information, please contact

a) Philippa Douglas, ODF Executive Director on (021) 426 0198 or 072 456 4116

b) Samantha Volschenk, ODF Project Coordinator on (021) 426 0198 or 082 560 4009.

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