"Shortly after midnight, Dr. Christiaan Barnard, heading a team of 20 doctors, removes the heart from the body of a young woman named Denise Darvall--who had been hit by a car--and places it into a 53-year-old grocer, Louis Washkansky, who was dying of heart disease.
Barnard would later say that he wasn't sure the surgery was successful until five hours later, when he electrically shocked the transplanted heart and it started beating. Washkansky was soon able to speak and even walk a bit, but died only 18 days after the operation when he developed double pneumonia--a consequence of having his immune system suppressed so that his body wouldn't reject the new organ.
A month later, Barnard repeated the procedure on a 58-year-old dentist named Philip Blaiberg, giving him the heart of a young black man, Clive Haupt, who had died of a stroke--a very controversial decision in racially segregated South Africa, Blaiberg was kept in a sealed suite of hospital rooms for more than two months and was not given steroids--treatment that had weakened Washkansky. He managed to live for 19 months.
Other doctors had performed heart transplants on animals, but none had been willing to do the surgery on humans, in part because of legal issues, particularly in the United States, where district attorneys had threatened to prosecute doctors who took organs from people who were brain dead, but had not yet died.
Barnard's surgery, however, made it more acceptable to use organs from brain-dead patients. He had been able to take advantage of the absence of legal restraints in South Africa; in fact, he had gone ahead with the operation without seeking permission of his hospital's executives. He only told them about it afterwards. "