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Scholarships in memory of heart pioneer get doctors' pulses racing

02 December 2016 - 16:55 By Dave Chambers

Two doctors have been awarded scholarships to study overseas‚ given in memory of the laboratory assistant who was the right-hand man of heart transplant pioneer Christiaan Barnard.

The recipients - Marshall Heradien‚ a cardiologist at Stellenbosch University‚ and Shrish Budree‚ a paediatric gastroenterologist studying at Harvard University in the United States - bring to 13 the number of scholarships awarded.

“This scholarship initiative … creates opportunities for deserving South African medical practitioners to further their studies and research in their respective fields of specialisation‚ before returning to South Africa to continue to contribute towards the advancement of South African academic medicine‚” said Netcare chief executive Richard Friedland.

“In this way‚ we honour the legacy of Hamilton Naki and numerous other South Africans who were denied the chance to fulfil their potential in the field of medicine during apartheid and ensure the progress of medicine in our country.”

The scholarship‚ first awarded in 2007‚ was the brainchild of the dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences of the University of Cape Town (UCT)‚ Bongani Mayosi‚ who was concerned about a shortage of qualified academic doctors in leadership roles at South African medical schools.

Naki left school in the Transkei at the age of 14 and moved to Langa‚ in Cape Town‚ starting work as a gardener at UCT.

"In 1954‚ Robert Goetz‚ of the university's surgical faculty asked Naki to assist him with laboratory animals. Naki's responsibilities progressed from cleaning cages to performing anaesthesia‚" says Wikipedia.

"Most of Naki's work under Goetz involved anaesthetising dogs‚ but Naki also assisted in operating on a giraffe to dissect the jugular venous valves to determine why giraffes do not faint when bending to drink."

Several years after Goetz left‚ Naki started working for Barnard‚ anaesthetising animals. "He was then appointed principal surgical assistant of the laboratory because of his remarkable skill and dexterity‚" says Wikipedia.

Barnard was quoted as saying: "If Hamilton had had the opportunity to study‚ he would probably have become a brilliant surgeon" and that Naki was "one of the great researchers of all time in the field of heart transplants".

In 1968‚ Barnard's cardiac surgical research team moved out of the surgical laboratory‚ and Naki helped develop the heterotopic or "piggyback" heart transplantation technique. In the 1970s‚ Naki left Barnard's team and returned to the surgical laboratory‚ this time working on liver transplantation.

He retired in 1991 and died in 2005.