IN SHORT: There’s no evidence that a young Nigerian woman, whose studies were funded by presidential candidate Peter Obi, was the first black woman to perform a human heart transplant in under 30 minutes. A viral tweet is pure fabrication.
If you believe a popular claim circulating on social media in January 2023, a 20-year-old Nigerian woman has become “the first black girl” to perform a human heart transplant “within 30 minutes”.
This remarkable claim first appeared in a now-deleted 7 January tweet, which in just a week received almost 19,000 likes and some 1.2 million views. Other versions of the claim surfaced in the following days here, here, here, here, here and here.
These posts claim that what led to the medical milestone was Nigerian presidential candidate Peter Obi sending the surgeon-to-be, “Chimaka”, to England on a scholarship.
The posts also include four photos: one of Obi, one of a woman in medical scrubs, one of a group of surgeons around an operating table, and one of what looks like a human heart connected to tubes.
But did a Nigerian named Chimaka become the first black woman to perform a heart transplant, in under 30 minutes, thanks to Peter Obi? And do the photos reflect this? We checked.
Photos don’t show what they claim to
An internet search revealed that the photo of surgeons standing around an operating table is from a 2022 world-first surgery. But it involved transplanting a pig heart into a human, performed by a team in the US state of Maryland.
Similarly, as AFP has reported, the photo of the heart was taken years ago, and appears on various websites, including here and here, as well as on the Wikipedia page for heart transplantation, where it is listed as created in 2019.
A Twitter user quickly clarified the story behind the photo of the person wearing medical scrubs. Identifying herself as Wuraola, the user posted a link back to a 2020 tweet where she had posted pictures from the same photoshoot, and said they had all been taken “years ago in medical school”. The full photoshoot is available on a stock image website.
Waruola confirmed to AFP that the photos had been taken in 2019 in Ukraine. She is Nigerian but living in the United States. On Twitter, she clarified that she had “recently” completed an undergraduate degree at a Ukrainian university, funded by her parents.
No scholarship, no ‘Chimaka’, no 30-minute heart transplant
Obi, who appears in the first photo in the post, is a politician and candidate in Nigeria's upcoming 2023 presidential election.
As an AFP fact-check noted, Obi has in the past awarded scholarships to university students. But neither Africa Check nor other fact-checkers could find evidence of a scholarship given by Obi to someone called Chimaka who went on to become a surgeon.
According to the UK’s National Health Service and Mayo Clinic, a US-based medical centre, heart transplants are complex surgical procedures that take hours for teams of surgeons to perform, not just 30 minutes. Someone who recently obtained an undergraduate degree would not perform heart surgery.
According to records from Encyclopaedia.com, Dr Velma Scantlebury was the first black woman surgeon in the US to perform a transplant. But Africa Check could not find reliable sources for who was the first black woman surgeon to perform a heart transplant worldwide.
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