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    Saturday, August 27, 2005

    An Exaggerated Life: Remember the humble South African who was the surgical skill behind Christian Barnard's heart transplants? He wasn't:

    We have since been assured by surgeons at Groote Schuur, the hospital where the transplant was performed, that Mr Naki was nowhere near the operating theatre. As a black, and as a person with no formal medical qualifications, he was not allowed to be. The surgeons who removed the donor's heart were Marius Barnard, Christiaan Barnard's brother, and Terry O'Donovan. A source close to Mr Naki once asked him where he was when he first heard about the transplant. He replied that he had heard of it on the radio. Later, he apparently changed his story.

    He changed it, it seems, not simply because of the confusion of old age, but because of pressure from those around him.

    Mr. Naki's true life story is no less compelling, though not as dramatic:

    This much is true: Mr. Naki, who was said to be 78 when he died on May 29 in a black township in Cape Town, was a skilled self-taught surgeon, versed in the argot and techniques of transplants despite leaving school at 14. He was held in great regard by Dr. Barnard and other white colleagues at the University of Cape Town, where he worked for Dr. Barnard at the time of the historic transplant.

    .....His considerable surgical skills were limited to experimental work on pigs and dogs, and even his greatest admirers say he would not have been allowed to work on humans.

    Also, he was not a poor gardener at the university, as his obituaries reported, but a top-level laboratory assistant, paid a commensurate salary. He did not die penniless, either.

    ....By all accounts, Mr. Naki came from rural South Africa to the University of Cape Town in his late teens, landing a laborer's job, apparently tending tennis courts or hockey fields.

    At some point, the university's most eminent surgeon, a German expatriate named Robert Goetz, "needed a pair of hands in an experiment, looked out the door of the lab and said 'hey' to the first person he saw, and that was Hamilton," Dr. Hickman said Friday in a telephone interview. "That was the start of an extraordinary collaboration."

    ...."He had a very good hand," Mr. Dent said. "But he never went to the hospital, or into the hospital, or saw a human. No technician goes into a hospital."

    They blame The Guardian.

    posted by Sydney on 8/27/2005 02:24:00 PM 0 comments


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