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The Surgeon Who Dared
Author:David K.C. Cooper MD, FRCS
Dimensions:6.15" x 9.25"
Photos:Color and B&W photographs
Item No. 9781781556399
From humble beginnings as a ‘barefoot boy’ in a small town in the heart of South Africa, he learned to mix with presidents and prime ministers, with royalty and popes, and quickly embraced the high-life of the jet-set who surrounded him. Throughout life, he was a serial womanizer, bedding famous European film stars (and their secretaries). He survived three tempestuous marriages and divorces, each wife becoming younger than the last until their age difference reached 40 years. This scientifically-trained surgeon called on the services of a ‘witchdoctor’ (a sangoma)—unsuccessfully—to help punish those who had contributed to the break-up of his second marriage. With no experience himself, he trained his daughter to become the second-ranked water skier in the world, though he was disappointed she never became world champion. Perhaps the immense effort he put into driving her to success accounted for the relative neglect of his oldest son, who, as a young doctor, suffered increasing depression until he died of a drug overdose at an early age. The surgeon pursued his goals in heart surgery despite a lifetime of pain from arthritis and a disability from asthma, which might eventually have killed him.Having established the first major heart surgery program in Africa, he eventually became distracted by other interests until he was a mere shadow in his own department. Yet he remained in the public eye through his gifts for public speaking and as a writer. He traveled the world; published two autobiographies; wrote popular books on health for the public, particularly relating to heart disease and arthritis; and penned books on such varied subjects as the politics of apartheid in his homeland, and euthanasia. He became a well-regarded and popular columnist for several South African newspapers and collaborated on the writing of four novels. He branched into the business world and expanded the meager financial rewards earned from his surgical services to the South African health care system by investing in restaurants in Cape Town, establishing a game reserve in the hinterland of South Africa, and causing controversy by his role in advertising a cream that reputedly prevented wrinkling of the skin. He set up a heart research foundation and a foundation that paid for children from all over the world to travel to Cape Town for corrective open heart surgery.This charismatic and controversial man was Chris Barnard who, by the way, also dared to carry out the world’s first human heart transplant in December 1967.Can we summarize Chris Barnard? Not very easily. He was a first-class doctor—skilled, knowledgeable, compassionate, conscientious, concerned, decisive, and wise. He was an inquiring and innovative surgeon—though famously irascible in the operating room—with a vision of the future developments in his chosen field and the ability, judgment, and courage to play a part in contributing to those developments. He was an informative and highly entertaining speaker and raconteur, a gifted writer, farmer, restaurateur, an unofficial ambassador for his country—and a good friend.