No series of posts based Out of Africa would be complete without a visit to the beautiful Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town. This hospital is situated on the slopes of Devil’s Peak, a small mountain adjacent to Table Mountain, part of the natural amphitheatre that forms a backdrop to the city of Cape Town.
The view from the wards at night is spectacular, showing a sea of brightly coloured lights across Cape Town, and is one of the many memories imprinted on my mind. You see, this is the hospital where I trained to be a nursing sister (RN), and behind the hospital is the nurses’ home where I lived when I first met my boyfriend (now my husband of nearly 48 years). It is also the hospital which saw the world’s first ever human heart transplant.
In 1967, four months after I married my best friend, Professor Chris (Christiaan) Barnard performed this surgery on 53-year-old Mr. Louis Washkansky. Sadly, Mr. Washkansky died after 18 days due to pneumonia, but his new heart beat strongly to the end. Today, according to Wikipedia, 3,500 heart transplants are performed annually across the world. Recently, there has been a fascinating discovery. Several heart transplant recipients have reported how they have experienced memories, desires and even habits they never had before.Some have researched the background to their donated hearts and scientists have found that there appears to be some sort of intelligent memory tied into the heart. There is a story of a Spanish-speaking man who began using words he hadn’t previously used. The wife of the donor confirmed these were words used by her husband before his death. The recipient’s music preferences changed as did his choice of food. He went from being a vegetarian to craving red meat! In another story, an 8-year-old girl received a heart from a 10-year-old girl who had been murdered. As a result of nightmares and help from a psychiatrist, she was able to help police solve the case. There are many more stories like this. A number of novelists have written books around this phenomena. I have read a couple of them. One I particularly enjoyed is by Harry Krause, A Heartbeat Away. “When a brilliant surgeon undergoes a heart transplant, her life transforms as she begins experiencing memories of a murder she never witnessed.” Critics argue these occurrences are not possible, but do the stories perhaps speak for themselves? What do YOU think?