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Thursday, 4 June 2009

Heart transplant history - follow up

An earlier post discussed the falsification of history in the film Hidden Heart.

Die Burger has followed up with two articles which provide more background on the contributions of Hamilton Naki. I have roughly translated the main points:

Annette Evans from Stellenbosch wrote that she worked as research technician in 1961-62 under Dr Chris Barnard. She states that the photo taken of Naki was not in an Operating Room, but in actual fact in a surgical research laboratory in the mortuary in Anzio street - not even situated on the premises of Groote Schuur hospital itself. They referred to the laboratory as the “doglab”, because research was done on dogs.

Hamilton’s (they called him “Hammy”) job was to prepare dogs for surgery by applying general anaesthesia, opening the chest, stop bleeding and closing the incision after the operation. He worked for the surgical research technicians studying under Dr Chris Barnard and Professor Jannie Louw. According to Evans, Hamilton was trustworthy and reliable. He would have gained a lot of experience, as they did numerous operations per week on dogs, but he would never be involved in operations on humans. They loved him and respected him because of his dedication.

Evans reckons the operations carried out on dogs inevitably resulted in the animals suffering, hence the reason for not publicly disclosing the activities of the “doglab”.

In another article, Dr Marius Barnard (the brother of Dr Chris Barnard and who assisted him in the pioneering human heart transplant), said the film which suggests that Hamilton Naki did not receive recognition due to political reasons, is a blatant distortion of the facts. He says it makes a farce of the medical breakthrough achieved by Chris Barnard.

He acknowledged that Naki contributed in the experimental research lab, but the closest he ever came to the Operating Room was about 8km - the distance between the hospital and where Naki stayed.

Mr Hennie Joubert, curator of the heart museum at Groote Schuur, also confirmed that Naki contributed to the research lab activities, but that the movie isn’t factually correct.

Professor Rosemary Hickman, surgeon for more than 30 years at Groote Schuur, said it is a pity that political agenda should triumph over the dedication and hard work of Hamilton Naki - a wonderful opportunity to portray the result of hard work has been undone by making Hamilton a political pawn.

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