Barnard was born and grew up in Beaufort West[?]. He was educated in medicine at the University of Cape Town[?], did his internship and residency at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town and became a general practioner in Ceres, western Cape. In 1951 he returned to Cape Town to work at two hospitals and complete his Masters (receiving that in 1953 from the University of Cape Town). From 1956 he attended the University of Minnesota to study surgery. While in Minneapolis he became involved in cardiology and chose that as his specialty.
He became a cardiothoracic surgeon at the Groote Schuur Hospital in 1958, establishing the hospital's first heart unit. He also lectured at the University of Cape Town, in 1961 he was made head of cardiothoracic surgery at the university.
He had experimented for several years with animal heart transplants following the first successful kidney transplant in 1954. Barnard performed the first kidney transplant in South Africa in 1959.
The chosen patient was Louis Washkansky, 55 years old and suffering from diabetes and heart disease. the heart came from a young woman, Denise Darvall, killed in a road accident. On December 3 in a nine hour operation, using a thirty person team, the heart was transplanted. Washkansky survived the operation and lived for eighteen days before dying from pneumonia induced by the immuno-suppressive drugs he was taking.
A photogenic and media hungry figure, Barnard became famous across the world following the operation. Barnard continued to perform heart transplants (his second patient, operated on in January 1968, survived for 19 months) as well as pioneer new and risky techniques, including double transplants (1974), artificial valves and using animal hearts for emergency treatment (1977). He performed 10 orthotopic transplants (1967-1973) and Barnard or his group performed 48 heterotopic transplants (1975-1983). The introduction of cyclosporine meant a resumption in orthotopic operations.
He retired in 1983 to his ranch in the Great Karroo. He had become over-interested in anti-ageing processes and his reputation suffered when in 1986 he promoted Glycel, a product soon withdrawn by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). He died whilst on holiday in Paphos, Cyprus of an acute asthma attack.
He first married in 1948 to a nurse, Aletta Louw, while a doctor in Ceres. They divorced in 1969 and Barnard married the glamorous Barbara Zoellner in 1970. He divorced again in 1982 before marrying for a third time in 1988 to the youthful Karin Setzkorn, divorcing again in 2000. He had five children.
See also: Hamilton Naki[?]