How the first heart transplant led to critical illness cover

Fifty one years ago – in the early hours of Sunday, December 3rd 1967 – the world’s first human heart transplant was carried out in Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa by a pioneering medical team led by Professor Christiaan Barnard.

The team, which included Professor Barnard’s younger brother Dr Marius Barnard, successfully removed the heart of 17-year-old road traffic victim Denise Durvall, and transplanted it into Louis Washkansky, a 55-year-old former businessman who’d had total cardiac failure.

Dr Marius Barnard went on to travel the world, training other surgeons and developing techniques to improve pediatric cardiovascular surgical procedures. But perhaps his greatest achievement outside of the operation was to help patients worldwide be better able to cope with the financial impact of illness.

As someone with a restless curiosity, he was interested in medical developments in fields other than his own, and it was this – together with his own medical experience – that enabled him to realise that advances in medical and pharmaceutical care would transform survival rates.

Whilst this would result in additional quantity of life, the same couldn’t be said for its quality, as the patients’ post-treatment ability to work and earn in many cases was impaired.

It was this concern for the financial vulnerability and health of his patients that motivated Dr Barnard to work with the insurance industry to develop a new form of insurance cover. One that admitted a claim on the diagnosis of life-changing and/or limiting health conditions; not solely on death from them. Arguing that, as a medical doctor, he could repair a man physically, but only insurers can repair a patient's finances.

This led to the launch of the world’s first critical illness insurance product on 6th August 1983, and he then took on a new role working around the world as a protection and health insurance product design consultant

Source: Scottish Widows