Posted on 18 December 2018
Dr Ayesha Nathoo (Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health at the University of Exeter) was invited to give the Bynum Lecture of 2018 by the History of Medicine Society at the Royal Society of Medicine, London on 12 December 2018. There she presented her earlier research on the cultural history of early heart transplantation.
Based on her book Hearts Exposed: Transplants and the Media in 1960s Britain, Dr Nathoo described the media frenzy following the famous December 1967 heart transplant procedure at Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa by Christiaan Barnard. Unlike any previous medical event, this operation sparked overwhelming media attention, and according to Dr Nathoo’s research “ushered in a new era of doctor and patient celebrities, post-operative press conferences and medical PR” with ensuing impact on future medical innovation. Drawing on archival research, television footage, photographs and interviews, the study focussed on the British context and was able to reveal how publicity surrounding the first British heart-transplant operations directly affected their viability and essentially changed medical-media relations.
Dr Nathoo delivering the 2018 Bynum Lecture
Dr Nathoo captivated an audience of historians, physicians and surgeons, including Sir Terence English, who successfully re-established heart transplantation in the UK in 1979. The response from the audience was one of acknowledgement with a flurry of questions about ethical controversies relating to the donor and recipient, consent and confidentiality. Sir Terence ended by commenting on the repercussions of the first wave of heart transplant attempts, leading to a moratorium and re-introduction of the operations years later, and thanked Dr Nathoo for her well-researched analysis.
Dr Anjna Harrar (President of the History of Medicine Society at The Royal Society of Medicine, London) also wishes to extend her thanks to Dr Nathoo for delivering this splendid lecture.