July 17, 2005

The Art Of Eating One's Words :)

A few weeks back i re-published an obituary, of someone whom i thought was a hero. Since the source was The Economist, there was no need, i felt, to check the veracity!.

Alas, it seems even Economist was fooled. Naki was a nice even brilliant guy whom apartheid broke. But he was not the person who removed the donor's heart during world's first heart transplant.

Link

ON JUNE 11th this year, The Economist published an obituary of Hamilton Naki, a black medical researcher at the University of Cape Town. In that obituary, we described Mr Naki assisting in the first human heart transplant by removing the heart from the donor, Denise Darvall. Our account was drawn directly from Mr Naki's own words in interviews.

We have since been assured by surgeons at Groote Schuur, the hospital where the transplant was performed, that Mr Naki was nowhere near the operating theatre. As a black, and as a person with no formal medical qualifications, he was not allowed to be. The surgeons who removed the donor's heart were Marius Barnard, Christiaan Barnard's brother, and Terry O'Donovan. A source close to Mr Naki once asked him where he was when he first heard about the transplant. He replied that he had heard of it on the radio. Later, he apparently changed his story.

He changed it, it seems, not simply because of the confusion of old age, but because of pressure from those around him. Mr Naki was already a hero, as a man of scant education who had trained himself to carry out extremely difficult transplants on animals. He was also a martyr to apartheid: a man debarred from the proper exercise of his skills, and even from fair pay, by an iniquitous regime. (Christiaan Barnard admitted that, “given the opportunity”, Mr Naki would have been “a better surgeon than me”.) For both reasons, his role was gradually embellished in post-apartheid, black-ruled South Africa. By the end, he himself came to believe it.

The process was assisted by hints from Barnard that Mr Naki had helped him in ways that were not fully known, and by the fact that, under apartheid, any such help on white human subjects would have had to be secret anyway. In the end, a story took shape that looked so plausible to the outside world that not only ourselves, but the Lancet, the British Medical Journal and many others accepted it. Yet the same story appeared so ridiculous to the University of Cape Town, staff say, that they did not trouble to deny it.

To report this misapprehension is doubly sad, apart from our own regret at being caught up in it. It is sad that the shadow of apartheid is still so long in South Africa that blacks and whites can tell the same narrative in quite different ways, each suspecting the motives of the other. And it is especially tragic that it should have involved Mr Naki, a man considered “wonderful” by both sides, black and white, and whose life should still be seen as an inspiration.

9 comments:

silverine said...

Yes the shadow of Aparthied is indeed long enough to 'color' events to this day.And tragic as the post says, that Mr. Naki's name got dragged into this incident unwittingly. I am sure another disclaimer to this news is on the way ! :))

silverine said...

btw, Congrats on crossing 2000 web views!!! :)) Many more silent admirers, keep posting! :)

Matter of Choice said...

yes it was a tragedy that naki was dragged into this. his was a life full of agonizing discrimination, the old man deserved better in his death!> hopefully everyone will now leave him in peace!

and thankx for the 2000+ congrajulations. i must however admit that this time i "mistakenly" increased the views :(. my ip got changed and i noticed it only after some time :). btwn I wuld rather have eloquent admirers :)

Jithu said...

as always, informative...

Samudraa said...

Got me thinking,this one from ur old post..... "We suppose that in such cases more socially dominant males would be preferred."

Parna said...

you know i read about this and thought, there really are some men who make all the difference.

hope and love said...

hi. new to ur blog..im impressed..

Jiby said...

hi anish,
nothing new from you for a long time??? you seem to have forgotten you have a lot of readers.

Matter of Choice said...

yeah jiby..

been a long time...been frightfully lazy :(. will definitely try to be more regular in future