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November 18, 2010

South Africa is a world leader in the field of organ transplantation.  On 3 December 1967 Professor Christiaan Barnard performed the world’s first heart transplant at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town.  2010 marks the 43rd anniversary of this momentous event, however, despite the tremendous spirit of optimism created by this breakthrough; the majority of South Africans have yet to commit themselves to becoming organ donors.

There are currently approximately 3,500 people awaiting organ and cornea transplants in South Africa today.  Tragically less than 800 will receive a transplant and the “Gift of Life” this year.

A recent success story is that of Stanley Henkeman who was given the “Gift of Life” in the form of a heart transplant. Stanley cannot recall being a sick child – as a teenager he played rugby for his school during mid-week, soccer on a Saturday morning followed by hockey later in the morning.  As a young teacher he cycled 30km to school, taught his lessons for the day, coached school athletics in the afternoon and cycled the 30km trip back home.  In his thirties he started hiking as a sport and it was on a hiking expedition in the Swellendam mountains that he suffered a massive heart attack as a result of a genetic pre-disposition.  His life changed from highly energetic to no energy at all.

After five years of a diminished quality of life, he was diagnosed with end-stage heart-failure and was placed on the waiting list for a heart transplant.  Fortunately only after eight months on the waiting list, he received the Gift of Life and was given a heart transplant. He was absolutely amazed to feel alive again (as opposed to just breathing)and  has made a commitment to show his gratitude by living a full and meaningful life.  Stanley has achieved more than he could have imagined after his transplant, including representing South Africa at the World Transplant Games.  He also holds down a full-time job without additional strain and because none of us have any guarantees in life, he tries to make the most of every day.

Stanley is one of the very fortunate patients on the waiting list to receive a transplant– but many will not have this opportunity and a second chance in life due to the critical shortage of organ donors.

The Organ Donor Foundation urgently appeals to the public to become organ donors.  Please contact the Organ Donor Foundation toll free information line 0800 22 66 11 for more information or visit their website

By reaching more South Africans, we hope to increase the number of organ donors and ultimately the number of transplants performed annually.  This will bring hope to many critically ill patients on transplant waiting lists – giving them a productive life.

Most organ donors are from grieving families who often take comfort in the knowledge that they were able to give life to another, through the donation of their loved one’s organs and tissue.  The need for hearts, kidneys, lungs, pancreas, livers, and corneas is crucial in this country.

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