Cape Town's Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital to honour medical pioneers

2016-11-25 06:01
The admissions area of the Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital. (Tammy Petersen)

The admissions area of the Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital. (Tammy Petersen)

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Cape Town - A walk through the corridors of the new Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital in Cape Town is like a stroll through medical history centred around the man who pioneered the world's first successful heart transplant and those who helped him do it.

There are no abstract paintings mounted on neutral walls in the newly constructed R700m hospital – instead exhibitions in tribute to Professor Christiaan Barnard and his team's historic surgery in 1967 are present throughout the building, from the foyer to the wards.

Netcare CEO Dr Richard Friedland said on Thursday the hospital is intended to be a living tribute to Barnard and other pioneers of important medical innovations in SA.

"We were not seeking to create a museum - as that already exists at Groote Schuur - but rather a subtle, sophisticated and nuanced recognition of the first heart transplant and other medical innovations, whilst acknowledging the irony that this global clinical milestone occurred in the context of a backward and exclusionary political system," he said.

"In understanding the wider context of apartheid and the times of the 1960s, the exhibition speaks to human potential, determination and hope in the face of injustice and perceived impossibility."

In the foyer of the nearly completed hospital development, a sculpture by award-winning artist Marco Cianfanelli of an empty chest cavity is suspended from the roof.

Series of exhibits

Called Threshold, it is an illustration of the moment Louis Washkansky's heart was removed and Barnard stared into an empty, living human chest cavity. 

"The sculpture pays homage to the physicians whose dedication to the care of their patients has seen the invention and implementation of technologies that allow for lifesaving procedures to be performed and recovery to be intently monitored and analysed," Cianfanelli explained.

"The gentle ripples in the plywood structure also suggest the waning of one source of energy, and simultaneously the latent potential of another. Ultimately, the sculpture expresses hope, the potential for recovery and the systems of support that allow for healing to occur."

A series of exhibits are also on display on the sea-facing and mountain-facing windows of the lift lobbies from the ninth to the 16th floors.

At the hospital's admissions area, paintings of Barnard created by people on whom he had operated were combined to create a collage, which hangs from the ceiling.

"Professor Barnard achieved in medical history the equivalent of man's first landing on the moon," Friedland said.

There are also glass cabinets with original artefacts from the historic operation. 

'Unsung champions'

"Professor Barnard achieved international fame for expanding the boundaries of medicine. He was not only committed to furthering medical science, he was also deeply committed to patient care," Friedland said.

"Unsung champions" in the medical field are also recognised in the exhibition, he explained.

The exhibits aim not only to honour and describe the significance of Barnard's feats and the role that his team played in his success, but also acknowledge "the damaging and negative socio-political context in which they practiced". 

"The dedicated and trusted team of professionals who supported him, some of whom continue their practice to this day, are an integral part of this history and many superb insights come from their recollections of the event," Friedland said.

"In the history of medicine and surgery the first heart transplant, which has since become a commonplace procedure, will always be recognised as one of the seminal pioneering surgical innovations of all time."

The hospital will open on December 3 – the 49th anniversary of Barnard's historic operation.

Read more on:    cape town  |  health

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