Denise Darvall achieved renown when on 3 December 1967, she became the donor in the world’s first successful human heart transplant, performed by Professor Chris Barnard and his team at Groote Schuur hospital.
Earlier that day she was very seriously injured in a car accident in Observatory, Cape Town. Denise’s mother, who was also involved, died immediately. Denise had multiple injuries including a skull fracture and extensive head injuries. She could not be kept alive without mechanical assistance, and was essentially brain dead. At 9 pm on the day of the accident, the resuscitation team stopped trying to revive Denise.
After parental permission was obtained, Denise Darvall’s heart went to the first heart transplant recipient, Louis Washkansky, and her kidneys went to 10 year old Jonathan van Wyk. In apartheid South Africa that gave rise to some controversy, as the boy was Coloured and Denise was White.