A Tale of Two Surgeons

Suman Nazmul Hosain

Cardiac transplantation is one of the greatest medical marvels of the twentieth century. Performing
this miraculous operation on 3rd December 1967, Dr. Christiaan Barnard, an unknown surgeon
from the then apartheid state of South Africa suddenly became an international celebrity. Probably
no single procedure in the history of medicine had attracted so much media and public attention.
But there were many who thought that he didn’t deserve much of this glory. A lion share of this
should have gone to somebody else. Although Barnard completed the final step in the road to
transplant, it was the end product of serious research work carried out in many centers around the
World. Most important was Stanford University Medical Center, Palo Alto, California USA, where
Dr. Norman Edward Shumway was engaged in transplantation related research work along with
his junior colleague Dr. Richard Lower. The most of the techniques used in cardiac transplantation
today were actually developed by Dr. Shumway and his team. Barnard worked in the same unit with
Shumway at University of Minnesota when he came to USA. He visited USA again in 1966 when he
observed the works of Shumway’s research partner Dr. Richard Lower. During both of his visits he
had adopted many techniques from the research work of his American counterparts and later used
in his unique accomplishment. Barnard succeeded utilizing techniques developed through Shumway’s
painstaking work over the years depriving Shumway much of the glory he deserved. Both later on
continued in the development of transplantation when most others left because of poor outcome.
Shumway excelled the technical details and Barnard drew media and public attention to the
importance of this procedure. After almost five decades the name of Barnard is still well known by
the common people around the World; whereas Shumway remains unknown even to most of the
cardiac surgeons as well. This was the destiny of the two main heroes credited behind this exciting
medical accomplishment. Here lies a very interesting story, the tale of two surgeons.