Heart Transplant and Pinelands

At 3 am on the morning of December 1967, three of the four heart surgeons and an assistant standing around the operating table at Groote Schuur Hospital had all lived in Pinelands. On the table was Louis Washkansky, the recipient of the world’s first human-to-human heart transplant. The operation took three hours and forty-five minutes with the transplanted heart starting to beat at thirteen minutes past six. Later Washkansky was able to speak with his wife and reporters. After 18 days he died from pneumonia and was buried in a Pinelands Jewish Cemetery. 

Dr Chris Barnard was the leader of the team of surgeons, and he moved to Pinelands on three separate occassions. Born in 1922, he had grown up in Beaufort West, Cape Province. In 1941 Chris moved to Pinelands for the first time while studying at the University of Cape Town. He stayed in a house with his older brother, Johannes and wife, Joyce. The house was owned by Chris’ father. Before his studies were complete, he moved closer to Medical School. Chris moved back into Pinelands when he was appointed a resident doctor at Groote Schuur. By now he had married Louwtjie and had a daughter and son. In 1955 the family moved to the United States. Upon returning in 1958, he moved back into Pinelands for the third time, initially staying upstairs in a double storey house while three bachelors lived downstairs. After three months they moved into a nearby three roomed flat before purchasing a house in Acacia Way. The family finally moved out of Pinelands to live at Zeekoevlei. His mother moved into Pinelands when the Secura/Zerilda Droskie Home was built in 1964 and Chris opened their 1969 fete.

Pinelands resident, Rodney Hewitson was Chris Barnard’s right-hand man in the operation. The two had studied and qualified together at medical school. Rodney’s father, Phil Hewitson was well known in the Pinelands community having been the chairperson of the Pinelands Cricket club for 20 years and chairperson of the Pinelands Bowling Club for four years. In 1924 Rodney was one of the first 6 babies to be born in Pinelands. The family lived first at 18 Central Ave before moving to 17 Peak Drive. Professor Hewitson was highly regarded in his public life while private and deeply religious in his personal life. He was awarded the Distinguished Surgeon Award in 1988 and retired the following year to Hermanus, tragically losing his wife, Lulu in a housebreaking in 2008. His eldest son Dr John Hewitson, followed in his father’s footsteps as a heart surgeon.

Marius Barnard, the third member of the team, followed his brother into Pinelands. However after two years he decided to sell his house in Camp Road. He writes in his memoirs that they needed to move closer to the children’s schooling but also he could not stand the smells from the Bistro Factory in Ndabeni and the abattoir in Maitland.

Another Pinelands resident, Judith Pritchard was the team’s Principal Medical Technologist in blood transfusions who lived with her parents in The Crescent. She later married another Pinelands resident, Graham Penfold. In 1974 her father, Joseph Pritchard was presented an award  by Chris Barnard  when he broke the world record by donating  his 200th pint of blood at age 71.

Dr Barnard at the opening of the Secura Home in 1969 (Photo : Terence Cassidy)