Visit one of history's firsts, the birthplace of the first ever heart transplant, at the Heart of Cape Town Museum and learn about this momentous medical achievement and impact on today's surgeries.

On 3rd December 1967 a small operating theatre in Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town made world news. The dedicated, skilled, and courageous team completed the very first heart transplant – a feat of medical expertise that was to shape surgeries from that day forward. At the Heart of Cape Town Museum, you can go behind the scenes and learn about all those who played a role in pushing the boundaries of science.


  • Guided Tour of Museum
  • First ever heart transplant
  • One of the greatest moments in medical history
  • Original operating theatre in which it took place

Did you know:

  • Professor Christiaan Neethling Barnard, who led the surgery, was not only a surgeon and researcher but he was also dedicated to helping underprivileged children throughout the world
  • Barnard also performed South Africa’s second ever kidney transplant in October 1967
  • One of Barnard’s transplant assistants, Hamilton Naki, was an informally taught surgeon who started out as a gardener and cleaner but through the apartheid was given the opportunity to help out on an experiment with a giraffe and from then he became principal lab technician
  • Barnard’s first heart transplant patient, Louis Washkansky, lived for 18 days before dying of pneumonia, and his second patient lived for 19 months
  • Barnard had to retire from his successful career as a surgeon after developing rheumatoid arthritis
  • Barnard and other leading surgeons across the world used animal testing – primarily dogs – to research transplant and other surgery techniques before using them on humans

The Experience:

Join in a guided tour of the Heart of Cape Town Museum to fully appreciate this incredible feat of medical achievement half a century ago. In the run up to Barnard’s success, there had been other serious contenders and heart transplant research pioneers in the United States, namely Dr Norman Shumway and Dr Richard Lower. Barnard was relatively unknown in his field up until the breakthrough of his successful open-heart transplant into the body of Louis Washkansky. Until then people held a romanticised notion of what it meant to transplant the heart, and all the emotions that would be attached.

Nowadays, since that incredible day, surgeons across the world have successfully completed full facial transplants and a many number of other extreme surgeries so we can be thankful for Barnard and his team of dedicated assistants and technicians who paved the way for such medical progress.

The Museum, just 10 years old, is housed in the old Charles Saint Theatre, the operating rooms at the Groot Schuur Hospital where the transplant took place. It honours all the members of Barnard’s team who were involved in this incredible medical accomplishment. It also tells you about the donor and the patient who received the heart, bringing to light the moral and ethical questions that there were at the time, as well as the animal transplant research that went into the surgery, and how Barnard’s following success pushed him into the spotlight.

see the: full list of attractions included »

Monday 09.00, 11.00, 13.00, 15.00
Tuesday 09.00, 11.00, 13.00, 15.00
Wednesday 09.00, 11.00, 13.00, 15.00
Thursday 09.00, 11.00, 13.00, 15.00
Friday 09.00, 11.00, 13.00, 15.00
Saturday 09.00, 11.00, 13.00, 15.00
Sunday 09.00, 11.00, 13.00, 15.00

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Entrance 3 Groote Schuur Hospital, Main Road, Observatory, Cape Town


+27 21 404 1967