Theme: Urgency created by wars and epidemics combined with the can-do attitude of the twentieth century triggered medical advancements that extended American life expectancy and improved the overall quality of life for the American population.

Christiaan Barnard performs first heart transplant

53-year-old Lewis Washkansky, who suffered from chronic heart disease, was the first man to receive a heart transplant.
An additional major medical advancement that changed life in America was the first successful human heart transplant, which was performed by South African surgeon Christiaan Barnard in 1967. He was inspired by heart disease, which was a dominant cause of death and remains the leading cause among adults over age 60 in the United States (Eure)(Leading). Perfection of heart-lung machine technology, which handled the patient’s heart and lung functions while surgery was performed, was the gateway to cardiac surgery and enabled Barnard to execute the procedure (Cape). Lewis Washkansky, the recipient of the first heart transplant and a sufferer of heart disease, lived eighteen days after the operation with a new heart that functioned normally. The setback was that after the surgery, he was given drugs to suppress his immune system and prevent his body from rejecting the new heart – these drugs left him susceptible to sickness, and caused him to contract double pneumonia. The development of better anti-rejection drugs during the 1970’s made transplantation more practical. Barnard continued to perform heart transplants, and by the late 1970’s many of his patients were living up to five years with their new hearts (First).

Successful heart transplant surgery is very commonplace today, though it is an expensive procedure that is out of reach for some and finding appropriate donors is extremely difficult. Despite an increasing number of potential recipients, the number of heart donors has reached a plateau – more than 5,000 heart transplants take place each year worldwide, though an estimated 50,000 people are candidates for the procedure (Eisen). This lack of donors means that healthcare providers must strictly assess who should receive a heart transplant. The foremost reason for cardiac transplantation is to improve survival, followed by to enhance quality of life (Eisen). Survival among transplant recipients has significantly improved as a result of advancements in treatments that suppress the immune system and prevent infection. Heart transplantation and other methods of cardiac care have extensively lengthened and improved the quality of American lives.

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