200th heart transplant performed in Cape hospital

‘Routine operation’ gives life to many

Sunday, September 14 2014

The heart transplant team at Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital in Cape Town has just completed its 200th heart transplant, this time the recipient was a 30-year- old man.
Commenting on this achievement cardiac surgeon, Dr Willie Koen, who heads up the transplant programme at the hospital, said that thanks to the tremendous advances made in medicine over the years the procedure, which took just over three hours, is now considered fairly routine and is a well proven treatment modality offering excellent patient outcomes.

“The transplant team, comprising talented and seasoned healthcare professionals, has reached an important milestone. The healthy state of the transplant programme in South Africa, when compared to other programmes elsewhere in the world, is an excellent barometer of the innovation that is the order of the day in private healthcare. We as a team are honoured to be involved in heart transplants which are life saving and often the only treatment option left for people with serious heart disease.”

“It is of great significance that this particular transplant, which is the eighth heart transplant to be performed at the hospital this year, was on a young man who has his whole life ahead of him. That is what makes this procedure so meaningful and rewarding for the team.”

“The patient, who was severely compromised, has been on the transplant waiting list for over a year, during which time his health deteriorated to such an extent that he had to be admitted to the intensive care unit. An urgent appeal was made and the net result was a donor heart that was a good match. This will further improve the patient’s chances of a long, healthy and productive life,” added Dr Koen. The heart transplant programme, which was started at Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital in 1995, is a highly successful one that has had a marked impact on the South African healthcare landscape. At a global level it compares most favourably when measured against other programmes of the International Society of Transplantation. The survival rate of transplant patients at the hospital is above 95% after one year, 80% after five years and 70% after ten years. Without life-saving transplantation procedures, none of these patients, most of whom are now leading normal and productive lives, would have survived.

The team at Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital, under the aegis of Dr Koen, is also well known and respected for embracing ground-breaking technology, such as the artificial Berlin heart, to keep severely compromised patients alive while awaiting transplantation.

Not so long ago, patients with failing hearts had to hope that an appropriate donor heart would become available for them in time to save their lives. However, thanks to the work of cardiac surgeons such as Dr Koen, who has now been using artificial hearts in compromised heart patients for around 13 years, there is new hope for these patients. In 2001, Dr Koen became the first South African surgeon to implant an artificial heart into the chest of a 60-year-old man.

The hospital now also uses the HeartWare Ventricular Assist System (HVAD) to restore a patient’s blood flow while waiting for a transplant. This device assists the left ventricle of the heart to pump properly and is only suitable in patients whose right ventricle is functioning normally. HVAD makes it possible for patients to wait safely for a new heart, without further deterioration in their health. The device gives patients back their strength and tends to improve the outcome of the transplant when it finally takes place.

Dr Koen is passionate about heart health and has a number of helpful tips to share with those wanting to keep their hearts functioning at full capacity:

  • Get your heart health checked by your general practitioner.
  • Have regular check-ups to ensure that your blood pressure and cholesterol levels are under control.
  • If you have been prescribed medication to control high blood pressure, cholesterol levels or diabetes, do not stop taking it without consulting your doctor first.
  • If you are overweight, lose weight.
  • Control your alcohol intake.
  • Stop smoking. 
  • Exercise often.
  • Reduce your salt intake.

Cut back on processed food and eat more fresh fruit, vegetables, fish and white meat.


Issued by: Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare Christiaan Memorial Hospital
Contact : Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney, Sarah Beswick and Jillian Penaluna
Telephone: (011) 469 3016
Email:, or