Port Elizabeth – Eastern Cape police said on Sunday that
they are investigating the death of one of the world’s longest surviving heart
transplant patients, Paul Thesen.
“On the morning of Wednesday, December 25, two reports
were received by the [SA Police Service] of a vehicle travelling swerving from
left to right between Kenton-on-Sea and Alexandria on the R72,” said
Captain Mali Govender.
Shortly afterwards, police on patrol found the vehicle
parked opposite the Dutch Reformed Church, she said.
“The driver of the vehicle was unconscious.” He
was taken to hospital and later certified as brain dead. “He died shortly
Govender said an inquest docket had been opened for
investigation and a post mortem would be conducted to establish the cause of
Thesen’s sister Robin Thesen-Smith said her brother was
found to have sustained an injury to his head.
“The cause of the injury is not yet known to us,”
she said in a statement.
Thesen-Smith said her brother received his first donor heart
at the age of 14 from a Xhosa man in 1980, and his second, three years later,
from a girl who was fatally injured in a car accident.
She dismissed as “disinformation” and
“nothing more than mischievous lies and the figment of an overactive
imagination” a report in the Saturday Star that there was controversy
about the first donor’s race at the time of the operation.
The newspaper quoted Paddy Chapple, who was apparently a
friend of Thesen, as saying that Thesen lay on the operating table for four
hours until the apartheid government decided that when a heart left the body it
became neutral, and that Thesen’s classification remained white.
“The fact that the first donor heart was one from a
Xhosa man was of absolutely no relevance whatsoever. Our entire family was
overjoyed to get a suitable donor, as was the transplant team,” said
Heart transplant pioneer Christiaan Barnard and his brother
Marius Barnard performed the transplants on Thesen.
Thesen-Smith said her brother took a cocktail of
anti-rejection drugs every day to prevent tissue rejection.
In later years, he also had a by-pass operation and a
She said despite his health problems, Thesen went on to
compete in the Para-Olympics in Switzerland the 1980s.