London’s Science Museum honours 50 years of heart transplants

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Left to right: Ian Blatchford, director of the Science Museum Group, Dame Mary Archer, chairman of the Board of Trustees and members of the Choudhrie family

The Science Museum (London, UK) has unveiled a special exhibit to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the world’s first heart transplant, which took place in South Africa in December 1967.

The exhibit includes medical instruments used in a heart transplant operation, but also focuses on the patient experience. Christiaan Barnard’s first heart transplant patient, Louis Washkansky, died 18 days later from pneumonia, but survival rates have increased dramatically, with 85% of patients now living for more than a year and 50% for more than 10 years after the operation.

The exhibit is sponsored by the Choudhrie Family Foundation, which supports research and education projects related to cardiovascular medicine. Sudhir Choudhrie, a London-based businessman and philanthropist, is one of the world’s longest-surviving heart transplant patients. He had a heart transplant at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York in January 1999.

According to a press release, Choudhrie hopes the exhibit—which is on the ground floor of the museum and will be seen by millions of visitors—will encourage more people to become organ donors. At present, the Choudhrie Foundation is supporting the #OrgansWill campaign in the USA, which aims to recruit 62,500 new donors, potentially saving 500,000 lives. More than 23 million people in the UK have signed up to the NHS Organ Donor Register, but demand still outstrips supply.

Opening the exhibit, Mary Archer, chair of trustees for the Science Museum Group, said: “We have a unique opportunity to engage visitors with medical initiatives and significant anniversaries. The heart transplant is now well-established and a real achievement of modern science, which has saved many lives. This display will be very important, it will become part of a permanent exhibition entitled ‘How to Mend a Broken Heart’ when we open five new galleries dedicated to medicine in 2019”.

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