Home Heart Transplant Flashback: Australia's first heart transplant operation

Flashback: Australia's first heart transplant operation

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50 years ago Dr Harry Windsor and his team performed Australia's first heart transplant operation at St. Vincent's Hospital in Sydney.

This article was first published in The Sydney Morning Herald on October 24, 1968

Mr Richard Pye, Australia’s first heart transplant patient St. Vincent’s Hospital, October 29, 1968.
Credit:Staff photographer

Australia's first heart transplant was completed late last night by a surgical team at St. Vincent's Hospital, Sydney.

Twelve minutes after midnight the general medical superintendent of the hospital, Dr M. P. Cleary, issued this statement: "A heart transplant operation was performed by the cardiac surgical team at St. Vincent's Hospital this evening.

"The medical officers concerned consider the patient's condition to be quite satisfactory at the present time. A further statement will be made in 24 hours."

Dr Cleary's announcement gave no details of the donor or recipient of the transplanted heart.

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News that a heart transplant was under way at the hospital leaked out early yesterday despite an attempt at tight secrecy at the hospital.

Reporters and television cameramen watined outside the hospital but no confirmation of the operation could be obtained until shortly after midnight.

Dr Harold Windsor, with staff at Sydney's St. Vincent's Hospital, 1968

Dr Harold Windsor, with staff at Sydney's St. Vincent's Hospital, 1968Credit:Staff photographer

When a member of the transplant team left the front entrance of the hospital at about 12.30 he would not give his name. He said the operation went from about two to 11.30pm.

"I know you've been waiting sometime, but we've had a rough night of it too," he said.

"We have got to think about the recipient and the donor. They are our first consideration.

Donor 'a young man'

Soon after the operation began it was reported that the donor was a 29-year-old man in the Royal Australian Navy who died yesterday in the hospital from natural causes.

The recipient was said to be a man aged about 60 who had been in the hospital for several weeks and who was dying of an incurable heart condition.

The St. Vincent's Hospital team was led by Dr H. M. Windsor, an honorary surgeon at St. Vincent's Hospital, who has a distinguished reputation as a heart specialist.

Dr Windsor's team was on the verge of beginning a heart transplant operation on Tuesday.

At the last minute the operation was called off when it was discovered that the heart donor had suffered a chest condition which could make the condition of the heart suspect.

Sydney Morning Herald, 24 October, 1968

Sydney Morning Herald, 24 October, 1968Credit:Fairfax Media

It was not clear last night whether the operation performed was on the recipient who was to have received a transplanted heart on Tuesday.

The heart transplant team is believed to consist of Dr H. Windsor, Dr A. G. McManis, Dr P. J. Maloney, Dr R. Bailey. Dr M. Weston, Dr D. Bryant, and Dr M. McMahon.

On Monday the Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service started tissue-typing samples from two possible heart transplant recipients and one possible donor at St. Vincent's Hospital.

The director, Dr G. T. Archer, said yesterday that the service had been tissue-typing samples from thc hospital for more than two months.

Dr Harry Windsor, heart transplant surgeon, 1968.

Dr Harry Windsor, heart transplant surgeon, 1968.Credit:Staff photographer

"They will use the information from the tissue-typing when they have to deal with the rejection phenomena in the patient after the transplant," he said.

As news of the operation spread yesterday TV arc lights were set up at the entrance of St. Vincent's Hospital and a knot of newspaper, television and radio reporters were joined by a small crowd waiting for news.

Reporters and TV interviewers were told that a statement would be issued at the front entrance by the Clinical Superintendent, Dr R. B. Spencer, at 8 p.m.

Soon after that time a group of journalists went to the Cameron Wing and asked for Dr Spencer.

After a short delay he came down from an upper floor and told them to return to the main entrance, where they had been told to wait.

He refused to say whether or not the hospital had performed a heart transplant.

When the statement was finaly issued it was telephoned to newspaper offices, bypassing the waiting reporters.

Australia's first heart transplant appears to be the world s 64th: on Sunday Canadian surgeons successfully performed thc 63 rd on a 42-year-old man in Montreal.

The world's second heart transplant recipient, and the longest surviving, Dr Philip Blaiberg, the patient of Dr Christian Barnard, received his new heart on January 2.

The City Coroner, Mr J. J. Loomes, S.M., said last night that he had not authorised the transplant of a heart, and that the death of the donor was "apparently not a matter for the coroner."

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