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Health History at Groote Schuur Hospital

Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, the home of the world’s first heart transplant | Student Photo: Paige Polzer, Edgewood College

The Taj Mahal. The Great Wall of China. Groote Schuur Hospital? It may not top the list of world landmarks, but Groote Shuur Hospital is definitely among the medical wonders of the world, as well as a destination for Semester at Sea students this spring.

Groote Schuur, Dutch for “Big Barn,” gained international recognition in 1967 when Dr. Christian Barnard performed the first successful heart transplant at the hospital, edging stiff competition from a trio of far-more-experienced American doctors simultaneously seeking the same goal. The site remains an active hospital, but features a heart transplant museum as well, making it a perfect stop for SAS medicine classes while in Cape Town.

Dr. Marc  Zimmer, a South African native and chemistry professor at Connecticut College, brought students from his “Biomedical Applications of Genetic Engineering” class to the Groote Shuur museum—a perfectly preserved monument to the marvels of health innovation. “We went into the actual operating galleries and all the machinery and equipment was original,” explained Sephora Findling, a nutrition sciences student at Syracuse University. “We saw exactly what it looked like during the operation.”

Findling, who’s wanted to be a heart surgeon since childhood, achieved a lifelong goal by visiting Groote Shuur with Semester at Sea. “The hospital is well-known in medical circles,” she explained. “People may not remember the name, but they know it’s South African and they know it’s the site of the first heart transplant because it’s such a big deal.” Findling first learned of Groote Schuur when she was only 5 years oldРthe age when she first decided to be a heart surgeon. Groote Schuur has come up several times since in her various medical classes, and she spent her childhood campaigning for a family vacation to the famed location. Although her French-Korean parents (who met in Ethipoia and lived in Sudan, Gabon, and Nigeria) never caved to her wishes, Findling finally accomplished her personal pilgrimage to the hallowed hospital on a class trip through Semester at Sea.

The hospital may not show up in many Cape Town guidebooks, but it’s a landmark of the medical field and just one of the hundreds of destinations for students this semester on SAS.

Click here to read the bio of Dr. Marc Zimmer, the Carnegie Foundation’s Professor of the Year for the state of Connecticut in 2007.

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