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Photo Credit: Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

In honour of the 55th anniversary of Professor Christiaan Barnard’s historic heart surgery, Heroes of Groote Schuur interviewed one of his most valued colleagues.


Cape Town, South Africa (14 December 2022) – Groote Schuur Hospital celebrated the 55th anniversary of the first heart transplant, performed by Christiaan Barnard on the 3rd of December this year. Heroes of Groote Schuur, a Facebook page that honours the men and women that work at the academic hospital, connected with Sister Hawa Abbas who worked in the Cardiac ICU alongside Professor Barnard.

Sister Hawa Abbas looks back fondly at her career, beaming with pride at being involved with Professor Barnard in his department. She explains that she had bigger hopes for her career and he encouraged her to take the steps to make that happen, even when it meant leaving his service.

“I started my nursing career in 1969 and completed my midwifery in 1973. Because of apartheid we didn’t have a choice about where we wanted to go, so we were shoved into ICUs. It is a very scary atmosphere if you’ve never been exposed to ICU. But if you had a job and a salary you were considered lucky.

They said to me, ‘You’re going to work with Professor Barnard in Cardiac ICU.’ I remember my first day there. When I was told that the patient on the list was his, and I’d have to assist, I started to cry. “How can they give me Prof Barnard’s patient?” I said. When the patient arrived and I saw all the drips I ran to the toilet and I said, “I’m not going to take this patient.” I cried my heart out. But I gathered myself and said, “Ok, I will take the next patient.” It was not an easy road, but I settled in.

Professor Barnard always had a smile on his face. He would greet everybody, and then start his ward rounds. We’d stand with him and you could hear a pin drop because there was absolute silence.

I started getting used to the Prof, as we’d call him. When he was operating he’d come and check who was on the list and who was looking after his patient. If my name wasn’t there he’d erase the name that was there, and write in my name. He made my time at Groote Schuur wonderful; I gained so much experience working with him.

After eight years in Cardiac ICU I decided I was stagnating, and that I should move to Trauma ICU. I told Prof Barnard that I needed to step up in terms of my career, and he encouraged me. I loved Trauma; I loved the adrenalin. I was eventually put in charge of the Unit. When I saw Prof in the corridors after that he would always greet me. “How are you my sissie? Hoe gaan did vandag?” he’d ask. He treated everyone the same, and for that everyone loved him.”

Sources: Heroes of Groote Schuur
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Tyler Leigh Vivier is a writer for Good Things Guy.

Her passion is to spread good news across South Africa with a big focus on environmental issues, animal welfare and social upliftment. Outside of Good Things Guy, she is an avid reader and lover of tea.

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