A “tale of two countries”: Narratives of hearts, patients and doctors in the Spanish press

Alina Danet, Rosa M. Medina-Doménech

In this article we explore how the Spanish written press – ABC, La Vanguardia, and Blanco y Negro – and the official newsreel No-Do, created and disseminated a narrative about heart transplantations at the end of the 1960s. We consider how Franco’s regime used Christiaan Barnard’s heart transplants to legitimize the Spanish dictatorship and as a means of signifying scientific progress, modernization and national pride. The Spanish press created the plot of the first transplantations like that of a television series, presenting daily installments on the patients’ progress, dramatizing the stories and ensuring the public’s emotional attachment. The three main characters in the story: donors, patients and surgeons, formed a symbolic, indivisible narrative triangle endowed with singular meaning. This Spanish narrative of organ transplant technology was deployed through what we have called “a tale of two countries”, that, emulating the South African’s success, constructed in Martínez-Bordiú, Franco’s son-in-law, a home-grown, masculine scientific personality capable of performing heart surgery and endorsing Franco’s investment in scientific modernization.

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