Heart of Cape Town Museum

The Heart of Cape Town Museum is a museum complex in the Observatory suburb of Cape Town, South Africa. It is in the Groote Schuur Hospital on Main Road. The hospital was founded in 1938 and is famous for being the institution where the first human heart transplant took place, conducted by University of Cape Town-educated surgeon Christiaan Barnard on the patient Louis Washkansky. The museum opened on December 3, 2007 marking the 40th anniversary of the heart transplant by Christiaan Barnard.[2] The Heart of Cape Town Museum honors everyone who played a major role in a surgical feat that created a new medical era. It also brings attention to ethical and moral implications that came up at the time. It also highlights the ways in which Barnard's accomplishment put South Africa and the University of Cape Town on an international stage.

Heart of Cape Town Museum
Old Main Building of Groote Schuur Hospital
Shown in Cape Town
LocationObservatory, Cape Town  South Africa
Coordinates33.941°S 18.463°E / -33.941; 18.463
TypeSpecialized museums
CuratorHennie Joubert [1]


The museum is laid out in the Old Main Building of the Groote Schuur Hospital in the original rooms where the first heart transplant surgery occurred. It utilizes the same operating theaters originally used in December 1967 when Denise Darvall and her mother were rushed into the hospital after being struck by a vehicle. The recipient of Darval's heart was Louis Washkansky, a 54-year-old grocer, suffering from diabetes and incurable heart disease.[3] A two-hour guided tour provides insight into the donor of the heart, the recipient, the ethical and religious issues regarding "moment of death" and more.[4] The guided tour of the museum starts with a representation of the car accident that provided the heart for the transplant, through to the animal lab where Barnard conducted experiments with over 50 dogs to perfect the technique of heart transplantation. From there one can tour a model of Denise Darvall's bedroom and Christiaan Barnard's office before seeing a recreation of the surgery in the actual operating theaters where it occurred.[5] Finally, visitors see a re-creation of Louis Washkansky's recovery room after which they can be assisted by tour guides to register as organ donors.[1] The museum also features a long hallway filled with letters of acclaim and criticism for Barnard showing the ethical backlash and international attention that the surgery received.

Reception of museum

The museum was ranked by Lonely Planet travelers as #67 of 918 things to do in Cape Town.[6] The travel website "What's Up Cape Town" has called it a must-see museum in Cape Town.[7]

People of relevance


  1. "Heart of Cape Town Museum opens". Health24. 3 December 2007.
  2. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-02-06. Retrieved 2013-05-09.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) First heart transplant 40th anniversary
  3. "Memories of the Heart". Daily Intelligencer. Doylestown, Pennsylvania. 29 November 1987. p. A-18.
  4. "Heart Museum".
  5. "Heart of Cape Town Museum in Observatory, Cape Town". www.sa-venues.com.
  6. "Heart of Cape Town Museum - Cape Town, South Africa Attractions". www.lonelyplanet.com.
  7. "What's Up Cape Town-Heart Transplant Museum".
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