Israel's first heart transplant - 40 years on

Israeli first occurred only year after world's first human heart transplant performed by South African surgeon Dr. Christiaan Barnard in Cape Town.

Four participants in Israel's first human heart transplant got together on Thursday to mark the 40th anniversary of the procedure. The heartfelt event, celebrated with a heart-shaped red cake and balloons, was held at the Rabin Medical CenterBeilinson Campus ( then Beilinson Hospital) in Petah Tikva on Thursday, a day before the actual anniversary. Prof. Morris Levi, who has since passed away, led the history-making Israeli surgical team. But in his absence, several others who participated then were present on Thursday - Dr. Bernardo Vidne, one of Israel's leading heart surgeons who was Levi's assistant then; Prof. Jack Solomon, who had "harvested" the donor heart; Dr. Erroll Levi, head of the anesthesiology department in 1968; and Shosh Levi, an operating theater nurse who participated in the transplant. Dr. Benny Medalyon, a younger doctor who is the current head of Beilinson's heart and lung transplant unit, hosted them. The Israeli first occurred only a year after the world's first human heart transplant was performed by South African surgeon Dr. Christiaan Barnard in Cape Town. The donor was a 25-year-old woman who died in a road accident, and the recipient was Louis Washkansky, a 55-year-old man dying of heart damage who survived for only 18 days due to rejection of the donor heart by his immune system. The Beilinson operation was rare - only the 101st in the world - because many patients had died due to the body's rejection of the donor heart. This situation triggered opposition to the surgery, but the problem has been greatly eased by the development of anti-rejection drugs and improved procedures. Tens of thousands of heart transplants have been performed in hundreds of transplantation centers around the world - and hundreds in Israeli hospitals - since then. The 1968 Beilinson recipient was 42year-old Bank Leumi employee and Jaffa resident Yitzhak Sulam, who suffered from terminal cardiac insufficiency and felt he had nothing to lose, as he had been hovering between life and death for several months. Sulam died about two weeks after the surgery for similar reasons as Washkansky. But Beilinson has performed about 200 since then, most of them successful. In The Jerusalem Post's story about the Israeli first, reporter Macabee Dean wrote that Levi, then 43, returned in 1964 from Minneapolis after working with Barnard to join Beilinson. Dr. Eyal Porat, head of the Rabin Medical Center's cardiothoracic surgery department, said at the reunion that the hospital has been responsible for many innovations in cardiothoracic surgery, including Israel's first robot-assisted heart operation in 2001, the implant of the first artificial heart for temporary use until a real heart is found in 2004, and Israel's first lung transplant from a live donor last year.