Christiaan (Chris) Neethling Barnard was born in South Africa and qualified in medicine at the University of Cape Town in 1946. Following surgical training in South Africa and the USA, Barnard established a successful open-heart surgery program at Groote Schuur Hospital and the University of Cape Town in 1958. In 1967, he led the team that performed the world's first human-to-human heart transplant. Although the first heart transplant patient survived only 18 days, four of Groote Schuur hospital's first 10 patients survived for more than one year, two living for 13 and 23 years, respectively. This relative success amid many failures worldwide did much to generate guarded optimism that heart transplantation would eventually become a viable therapeutic option, Barnard then developed the operation of heterotopic heart transplantation (the socalled "piggy-back" transplant), which had some advantages in the pre-cyclosporine era when immunosuppressive therapy was limited. His group was the first to successfully transport donor hearts using a hypothermic perfusion storage device in 1981. Several studies on the haemodynamic and metabolic sequelae of brain death were carried out in his Department's cardiovascular research laboratories at the University of Cape Town, and the concept of hormonal replacement therapy in organ donors was developed. An active heart transplant program still continues in the Chris Barnard Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Groote Schuur Hospital and the University of Cape Town, but the thrust of clinical activity within the Division and the research within its state-of-the-art cardiovascular research laboratories is now directed towards valvular and ischaemic heart diseases, which are common in the African population.