Pioneering heart surgeon Marius Barnard has died after battling prostate cancer for 17 years. Photo: Matthew Jordaan

Cape Town - When pioneering heart surgeon and anti-apartheid campaigner Marius Barnard took his last breath on Friday, he did so having fulfilled his biggest goal – bettering the lives of ordinary people.

Barnard, 87, who helped his more famous brother Christiaan perform the world’s first human heart transplant in Cape Town in 1967, died in Hermanus on Friday after battling prostate cancer for 17 years.

Speaking about his father’s long career and achievements, his son Adam said: “He fulfilled his dying wish of helping the common man.”

While sad, Adam Barnard said the family was at the same time relieved, since Barnard’s condition had deteriorated and he was in pain.

“He kept himself alive far longer than he should have… The little bugger didn’t want to die,” Adam said.

He, his mother and two sisters were present when Barnard died.

Adam said Barnard’s last word was simply his wife’s name: “Inez.”

As a child, he recalled, he didn’t see much of his father who was in the early stages of his career, often working days and nights, and travelling a lot.

Barnard started his career as a general physician in Zimbabwe. In 1966, he joined the department of cardio thoracic surgery in Cape Town, where he went on to become a member of the first heart transplant team. He received awards for his contributions to medicine from various countries, including Italy, Greece and France.

A description of Barnard’s 2011 autobiography, Defining Moments, on the website of publisher Random Struik says he was the son of missionary parents who lived in the Karoo town of Beaufort West who became “one of the world’s leading cardiac surgeons”.

“He worked to improve cardiac surgery standards behind the Iron Curtain and globally, and he played a leading role in the creation of critical illness insurance – his invention, and one that has directly benefited the sick around the world,” it said.

Independent Media