Moderation: Britta Bürger

Heart surgeon Bruno Reichart campaigned against apartheid in South Africa. (IMAGO / Astrid Schmidhuber)

Bruno Reichart is a pioneer and a star among cardiac surgeons. Even at 78, the fact that patients have to wait so long for an organ donor does not leave him alone. One possibility: xenotransplantation. To do this, he experiments with pig hearts.

For many people, the heart is the seat of the soul, cardiac surgeon Bruno Reichart is not. “The heart is a pump. And it’s the simplest organ we have in the body. It’s a fantastic pump: it works 80 years, 90 years 100 years if you take good care of it. the soul or humanity, to be human is very clear to me in the brain. And if you are brain dead, you can also donate your organs, because then you lose the human being. “

“The most important thing for a surgeon is his brain”

Bruno Reichart is one of the pioneers of heart transplantation in Germany. The now 78-year-old man has transplanted hundreds of hearts and operated on over 10,000 hearts in the past 40 years. He never thought of risks, but rather of success: life. “You have to think about it beforehand, you need a strategy. And the most important thing for the surgeon is his brain, his thoughts, his decisions. The operative part is generally not that difficult.”

The fact that Bruno Reichart became a cardiac surgeon is due to a number of coincidences. He was born in Vienna in 1943, in the midst of the war; the family struggles to survive. The first memories: the destroyed city, the houses on fire. He is not a ‘brilliant student’: ‘So either you became a teacher if you did not have something bright in you, or you became a doctor if you loved people and could deal with people. And that’s how I became a doctor – and I liked it. ”He actually wants to be an internist, but luckily he had to intervene during his cardiac surgery assistantship – and he stayed.

From Munich to Cape Town

In 1981 Bruno Reichart worked on his first heart transplant with full commitment: I picked up the first ones personally and sewed them all up personally. “In 1984, he succeeded in the first heart-lung transplant, and at the end of the years the heart, lungs and liver to the same patient. “The risk does not increase. Ideally, if you transplant a heart with a liver, your chances are much higher.”

The biggest step in his career: in 1984, Bruno Reichart succeeded the legendary surgeon Christiaan Barnard, who performed the world’s first heart transplant in a clinic in South Africa in 1967. Barnard seeks a successor, visits the young doctor of the Munich clinic, is impressed – and Reichart obtains the post of cardiac surgeon at the South African hospital Groote-Schuur in Cape Town.

Experiences with apartheid

Medicine is one thing, apartheid is another. He was naive, even stupid, he admits in retrospect, had not previously faced the consequences of racial segregation, Bruno Reichart said. “The black-skinned sisters weren’t allowed to touch whites which was a big deal because we had so few whites. I changed that in 14 days.” Apartheid is also evident in the wards, white and black patients are strictly separated. Reichart also abolishes this separation. Today he says, “All apartheid is a joke, and it’s bad. And but it’s over.

His new field: xenotransplantation

Even in the late 1970s, Bruno Reichart continued to research. His new field: xenotransplantation, that is to say, trying to remedy the shortage of organs from human donors with the help of animal organs. Genetically modified pig hearts are used in monkeys. Another pure animal experimentation. But the doctor also sees an opportunity for the many people who are waiting for an organ. “I believe a majority would be in favor. In today’s world, the benefits just have to overcome the risks a few times over. Then you can do it ethically. And it does.”