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Musings of Barnard

April 6, 2011

Churchill Wisdom

Sometimes people are driven by an insatiable need to achieve a level of success unparalleled by others. One person in particular is a South African cardiac surgeon, Dr. Chris Barnard. He was most notable for performing the first human heart transplant in the world making a mark forever on cardiac surgery and medicine. (Achieving a PhD in two years and postulating one of the now key principles behind intestinal atresia wasn’t enough.) I had the opportunity to visit the museum honoring this achievement while in SA. The museum is actually in the hospital where the transplant was performed, and it’s complete with mock-ups of the operating theatre depicting the event.

One of the most interesting exhibits in the museum contained two letters. The exhibit was entitled “Chris Barnard’s answers to probing questions by an interested party provide insight into the character of the man ‘Who was first’. ”

The questions were written by an Iranian in 1976. Barnard’s answers follow each question.

1. What is the greatest problem of our epoch?

  • The population explosion.

2. Under the prevailing world situation what would you predict to be the future of human civilization?

  • Another global war with the use of atomic bombs.

3. Is religion more effective than law in providing for the peace and tranquility of human being?

  • No.

4. What would you wish for the future of the world?

  • For nations to break out of their various camps and join together in a common effort to solve the problems.

5. What is your opinion and concept with respect to life after death?

  • I don’t believe in life after death.

6. What are the most important factors of success and development in your community?

  • The most important factors in success and development in the community are a gradual understanding that, irrespective of religion, colour or creed, people must be given the opportunity to exploit their inherited abilities.

7. What are the outstanding actions which you were not aware or could not carry out in the past, for which you now feel sorry?

  • The only actions that I really feel sorry about are that I did not spend more time with my parents when my father was still alive and when my mother was still able to enjoy my company.

8. What makes you most happy or sad in your life?

  • Achievements make me most happy in the world and failure makes me the most sad.

9. Which book have you found most interesting?

  • The Bible.

10. Based upon your past experience, what would be the best advice you could grant me?

  • To accept life the way it is and the way it progresses.

Sadly, Barnard had three failed marriages and died alone in 2011. At the beginning of the museum’s mini-documentary on Barnard, the film has a quotation from Churchill (see picture above) which I believe is a truism about success. It is a never-ending pursuit. Barnard by all accounts was a terror in the OR, and in fact, he stopped operating when as he said putting on set of gloves was no longer exciting. I’m not sure I want to achieve his level of success.

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