Dr. Philip Blaaiberg

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Dentist, Heart transplant recipient and a Captain of the South African Army Medical Corps during the Second world War.

First name: 
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Date of birth: 
Location of birth: 
Uniondale, Cape Colony
Date of death: 
17 August 1969

Born in Uniondale in the Cape, Blaaiberg spent his youth in the Karoo town of Oudtshoorn. He studied dentistry in London after spending a year at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. As a newly qualified dentist Blaaiberg settled in Cape Town where he subsequently retired. During the 2nd World War Blaaiberg joined the South African Army Medical Corps and as a captain, led a dental unit in Abyssinia and Italy.

In 1954 Blaaiberg had his first heart attack after which he relinquished his practice. Nine months before his heart transplant operation Blaaiberg’s heart failed, and three weeks before the same operation it was clear that he was dying.

On 2 January 1968 received the heart of 24 year old donor Clive Haupt in an operation performed by Professor Chris Barnard and a team of 30. As with the first human heart transplant in the same hospital, racism became apparent when controversy arose over the donor being coloured and the recipient white.

This caused some strange statements to emanate from the right-wing: “The relief of suffering knows no colour bar". ”¦ The heart is merely a blood-pumping machine and whether it comes from a white, black or coloured man or a baboon or giraffe, for that matter has no relevance to the issue of race relations in the political or ideological context.

The question of colour is not at issue here.” (Malan, 115) Owing to stringent post-operative sterile conditions Blaaiberg recovered without the infection which had led to the death of Washkansky before him. Three months after the operation he was able to drive his car but suffered relapses over time and in August 1969 he died.

• Malan, M. (1968). Howcroft, P. (undated). ... operation was performed on 2 January 1968 almost a month after the first, this time on Dr Philip Blaaiberg,
• Joyce, P. (1999). A concise dictionary of South African biography, Cape Town: Francolin Publishers; Saunders, C. & Southey, N. (1998)

Last updated : 12-Aug-2016

This article was produced by South African History Online on 17-Feb-2011

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