Peter John Fitt was given a 10-year life expectancy 60 years ago after having aorta repair surgery, here he is pictured with his family. supplied image
Peter John Fitt was given a 10-year life expectancy 60 years ago after having aorta repair surgery, here he is pictured with his family. supplied image

83-year-old man lives to tell the tale 60 years after aorta repair surgery by Professor Christiaan Barnard

By Genevieve Serra Time of article published Dec 4, 2021

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Cape Town - After an aorta repair Peter John Knighton Fitt was given a 10-year life expectancy 60 years ago.

The now 83-year-old man celebrated the anniversary of his surgery this week, which was performed by Christiaan Barnard.

Fitt, who now resides in Canada, celebrated 60 years of his surgery without any health complications on Wednesday.

Fitt is the founder and director of Maritime Colleges in Canada and wrote to Groote Schuur Hospital this week about his remarkable story.

He detailed the precision and brilliance of Barnard who had detected at age 23 that Fitt had an undiagnosed heart murmur.

Barnard and his team made international news when they performed the first human heart transplant on December 3, 1967 on patient Louis Washkansky who only lived for 18 days before succumbing to pneumonia.

Christiaan Barnard during a lecture in 1968 in Rome. Picture: Mario Torrisi AP

Denise Wiggett, who would later become his wife, noticed he was ill on their first date.

“In September 1961 I was on leave in Cape Town aged 23 when I met Denise Wiggett. On our first date, a good night kiss was called for and I ended up fainting. Denise marched me into her doctor’s surgery the next morning. Her doctor gave me a medical examination and found that I had no blood pressure in my legs.”

Fitt was taken to Groote Schuur Hospital by the doctor.

“I marched into a room and found two very important-looking doctors who introduced themselves as Chris Barnard and another doctor. With a selection of plastic hearts and drawings they explained that my aorta was only a millimetre in thickness where it branched to my legs. I was not getting enough blood to my legs and too much to my head.”

Fitt explained he was told he only had a 50 percent chance of survival and a life expectancy of 10 years and that he would be the first for this type of surgery.

“Professor Barnard said: ’I want to cut out the part of the aorta which is narrowed and put in a plastic pipe. To do this, I need a new invention called a Heart Machine which is now available in the USA. We have one on order but it will only be here in November. Then we have to train a team to use it and practise’.”

Fitt still remembers the surgery.

“I can remember a sea of faces as I blacked out. I woke to find tubes everywhere. I stayed in C2 until December 23. I had frequent check-ups through March and Professor Barnard gave me the green light to go back to sea. Life expectancy, 10 years.”

Fitt said he was able to marry his bride in 1964.

“Denise and I have four children, 15 grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and have been married for 57 years. We are celebrating my life and the high standards of pioneers at Groote Schuur Hospital.”

Groote Schuur spokesperson Alaric Jacobs said: “Groote Schuur Hospital is proud that we, with Mr Fitt, can celebrate the 60-year anniversary of the surgery. The hospital has always been a leader in innovative healthcare in the world.”

Weekend Argus

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