Heart surgery in Brazil, especially since the 1950’s, has always adopted techniques similar to those used in developed countries. One of the major advances was the perfection of blood circulation outside the body, allowing surgery to be performed with the heart stopped.
In addition, Brazilian doctors succeeded in adapting ortheses and prostheses, lowering the cost of surgical procedures.
Another landmark was established in the 1960’s, when the cardiologist, Euryclides de Jesus Zerbini, of the University of São Paulo’s (USP) Heart Institute (InCor), performed the first heart transplant in Latin America, in May, 1968.
This was less than six months after the world’s first heart transplant was performed by the South African physician, Christian Barnard, in Capetown.
Delmont Bittencourt, Zerbini’s assistant, traveled to South Africa just after the pioneering operation to gather information for the concretization of the transplant in Brazil.
The initial operations faced problems of rejection, since cyclosporine, a medication that diminishes the body’s rejection of organ transplants, was not yet available.
Of the first three transplant patients in Brazil, only one survived for about a year.
Nevertheless, the physicians were able to prove the efficiency of the surgical technique and postoperative care.
Control of rejection and infectious processes was nearly impossible at the time, not just here but in all world centers. This led Brazil to gain credibility in this field.
Translation: David Silberstein