SOUTH African heart surgeon Christiaan Barnard died after an intense asthma attack, an autopsy confirmed yesterday, not heart failure as initially suspected by health officials.
Pathologist Eleni Antoniou, who conducted the post mortem yesterday, said that Barnard's heart was in excellent condition, rejecting early speculation that Barnard had suffered a fatal heart attack.
She said the cause of death was a bronchial blockage brought on by the attack.
Antoniou said she was told that Barnard, who had been suffering from chronic asthma, had had a severe attack on Saturday night and had another attack on Sunday morning, which proved fatal.
She said Barnard had been under medical treatment for his bronchial asthma for several years. His condition worsened due to high temperatures and high levels of humidity, she added.
Barnard's agent Walter Lutschinger said witnesses had told him that Barnard was grappling with an asthma inhaler just before he collapsed.
Barnard, a frequent visitor to Cyprus, arrived last Thursday for a seven-day break ahead of a tour of Germany and the United States where he was to promote his new book, Fifty ways to a Healthy Heart.
Barnard made medical history in December 1967 with the world's first human heart transplant on 53-year-old grocer, Louis Washkansky, who lived for another 18 days before dying of pneumonia.
Barnard, who was a regular visitor to Cyprus, was granted Greek citizenship in 1993 for being a well-known Philhellene - a distinction that has only been granted to six people worldwide since 1821.
Barnard's funeral will be held in Beaufort West, Cape Town, where he was born.