Hamilton Naki: innovator in the shadow of apartheid | Media Center | DW

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Where and when was Hamilton Naki born?

Hamilton Naki was probably born in 1926 in the South African village of Centane (located in what is now the Eastern Cape). As he came from a poor family, he was forced to fend for himself from an early age. Hamilton Naki had a wife, four sons and a daughter. He died of a heart attack on May 29, 2005.

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What was Hamilton Naki’s first job?

At the age of 14, after finishing primary school, Naki went to Cape Town to look for work. He got a job at the University of Cape Town as a gardener. He was responsible for maintaining the tennis courts on the university grounds.

How did Hamilton Naki’s career take off?

In 1954, he was working as a healer of laboratory animals. It was around this time that cardiologist and researcher Dr Robert Goetz noticed that Naki had unique skills. He taught her how to dissect animals and prepare them for surgery. Naki later became a technician in the medical school’s research lab. Over time, he learned to transplant animals in the laboratory. This is how he came to work with Professor Christiaan Barnard, the first cardiac surgeon to perform a human heart transplant.

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Did Hamilton Naki perform transplants on humans?

No he doesn’t. Naki’s career took off as apartheid was in full swing. As a black man, he was not allowed to work only in the whites’ operating room. In fact, black healthcare workers are prohibited by law from coming into contact with white patients. Naki’s contribution was in the preparation and research of new surgical procedures.

How did Hamilton Naki contribute to the first heart transplant?

Hamilton Naki was not present when, on December 3, 1967, a surgical team led by Christiaan Barnard removed the heart of deceased donor Denise Darvall and transplanted it into receiver Louis Washkansky.

According to the Heart of Cape Town Museum, a museum established in honor of those who played a major role in transplantation, Naki’s career with Chris Barnard began with anesthesia on animals. His outstanding performance sparked his promotion to the position of Senior Surgical Assistant in the laboratory. An article from the Royal College of Surgeons of England’s Bulletin in 2014 states that “Naki anesthetized the dog for the previous work in cardiac surgery in the laboratory which involved establishing an open heart bypass, using an external pump. In that sense, he was part of the team that paved the way for Barnard’s breakthrough.

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Various sources have argued that Hamilton Naki participated in the first heart transplant. How did these rumors get spread?

While apartheid has systematically covered up the achievements of the country’s black majority, the new South Africa has brought with it the urge to uncover these injustices. Naki’s career in the shadows mirrored the stories of many black South Africans and has grown over the years. After Hamilton’s death on May 29, 2005, several well-known publications published his obituary indicating that he had participated in the very first human heart transplant. The publications had to publish retractions later. In 2009, a documentary titled “Hidden Heart” also hinted that Naki’s role might have been underestimated. In recent years, family members have expressed outrage. Claiming that Naki was the one who did the surgery, his son, Thembinkosi Naki, said, “This thing hurt him so much. Chris got all the awards, but my dad got nothing.”

What does Christiaan Barnard think of Hamilton Naki’s contribution?

In his later years, Christiaan Barnard was open to the high esteem he had for Hamilton Naki. In an interview with the Associated Press in 1993, he said: “If Hamilton had had the opportunity to perform, he probably would have become a brilliant surgeon. “And in 2001, shortly before his death, he told the British Daily Telegraph that Naki had become” one of the greatest researchers of the time in the field of heart transplants … He had better technical skills than I did. , especially in sewing, and had very good hands. “

Has Hamilton Naki received any awards?

In 2002, former South African President Thabo Mbeki awarded Naki the Bronze Order of Mapungubwe, an award given to South Africans who have achieved excellent feats.

In 2003, he received an honorary degree of science in medicine from the University of Cape Town.

How does the name Hamilton Naki live?

2007 saw the launch of the prestigious Hamilton Naki Clinical Fellowship. Inspired by Naki’s career, the scholarship was established by the Netcare Physician Partnerships Trust to help disadvantaged South Africans undertake high-level research. Likewise, the National Research Foundation created the Hamilton Naki Award which honors individuals who have achieved world-class research performance despite considerable challenges. In 2017, Salazar Plain in Cape Town, a public space opposite Christiaan Barnard Hospital, was renamed Hamilton Naki.

Scientific advice on this article was provided by historians Professor Doulaye Konaté, Professor Lily Mafela and Professor Christopher Ogbogbo. African Roots is supported by the Gerda Henkel Foundation.


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