Are you outstanding in your field but don’t receive the credit you deserve? If so, I’d like to tell you the remarkable story of Hamilton Naki, a gardener with a grade school education who helped develop human organ transplants.
Our story begins on December 3rd, 1967 when tragically Denise Darvall, a 25 year old woman was killed by a car as she crossed a street in Cape Town, South Africa. She was declared brain-dead but her heart was in excellent condition and her family authorized it to be transplanted into Louis Washkansky, a 55-year-old dentist, who had a failing heart.
While heart transplants are common today, in 1967, no heart transplant had ever been done. If a person’s heart began to fail, death was imminent. Under Dr. Christiaan Barnard, this would be the very first heart transplant and he transplanted her heart into Washkansky.
Afterward, when Washkansky, who survived 18 days, spoke with the media, it was like something out of science fiction and the world was stunned. Dr. Barnard was showered in publicity, posing for pictures, speaking to the news media, and instantly he became world famous.
One of the people who helped to develop transplant techniques in the animal lab with Dr. Barnard was a black man, Hamilton Naki. That night, Naki in his normal routine quietly took the bus home to his one room shack, a shack which had no running water or electricity.
As a boy, Naki had to drop out of school because his family couldn’t afford for him to continue. But instead of becoming a cattle or sheep herder as was common, he hitch-hiked to Cape Town to get a job.
In 1940, the University of Cape Town Medical School hired 14 year old Naki as a laborer to tend their lawns and tennis courts. One day in 1954, visiting German surgical professor, Robert Goetz was doing surgery on a giraffe and needed help to hold the animal in place. He called out to the first person he saw.
That person happened to be Naki and soon afterward, they began a remarkable collaboration. Dr. Goetz at first had Naki join him to clean animal cages and hold animals down. But Naki was an avid student and learned from Dr. Goetz how to anesthetize the animals and later he learned how to actually conduct the operations and did so.
When Dr. Goetz, returned to Germany, Naki became a top-level lab assistant to Dr. Barnard in 1956 and for many years he also assisted Dr. Rosemary Hickman, an associate professor and head of the lab’s surgical team.
Naki didn’t let apartheid stop him from developing and using his extensive surgical skills. To the betterment of mankind and animals as well, he did complex animal surgeries such as coronary bypasses and heart and liver transplants.
In fact, he was so capable, that The Daily Telegraph of London (New York Times 6/11/05), from an interview done years ago quotes Dr. Bernard, who died in 2001 as having said; “Hamilton Naki had better technical skills than I did. He was a better craftsman than me, especially when it came to stitching, and had very good hands.”
In his personal life, Naki and his wife had five children and he became a grandfather and a great grandfather. After Naki retired in 1991 he contributed part of his pension and did money raisers to help fund a rural black township school and to help pay for a converted bus which was used as a mobile clinic to serve poor black townships.
Success Tip of the Week: Unlike Hamilton Naki, who did not get the recognition he deserved you are not prohibited by apartheid from pursuing your educational and employment opportunities. By your action, you can make of yourself everything your abilities will allow.
In the next KazanToday, A woman thousands of miles from home who lost her wallet and her identification and who was rescued by the kindness of a Good Samaritan. That Good Samaritan would later help to rescue his community from the tragic impact of Hurricane Katrina.