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Dr. Daniel Hale Williams First Successful Heart Surgery

Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, First Black Heart Surgeon.

February is both Black History Month and American Heart Month. This month is a perfect opportunity to celebrate Dr. Daniel Hale Williams for his contributions to both Black History and American Heart Month. Williams founded the first black-owned hospital in America and performed the world’s first successful heart surgery in 1893. Williams accomplished many extraordinary things in life, which impacted history, his profession, and his community.
In 1858 Williams was born the fifth child of seven children to his parents in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. He was the son of a barber who he followed in his father’s footsteps working hard and got a job as a shoemaker than a barber to help his mother support their family after his father died of tuberculosis. Not long after working, Williams realized he wanted more education. He went on to complete his secondary education in Wisconsin. After school, he worked as an apprentice for two years with Dr. Henry Palmer, a highly accomplished surgeon, and then completed further training at Chicago Medical College.
Williams studied medicine at Chicago Medical College presently know a Northwestern University Medical School. At that time, black doctors were not allowed to practice in American hospitals. After graduating from medical school, Williams started his private practice in an integrated neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, Illinois. Williams treated both black and white patients. He then began teaching anatomy at Chicago Medical College and served as surgeon to the City Railway Company. In 1889, the governor of Illinois appointed him to the state’s board of health.
In his appointed role, Williams determined that Chicago should have a hospital where both black and white doctors could work and where black nurses could receive training. After months of hard work, Williams opened Provident Hospital and Training School for Nurses on May 4, 1891, which became the country’s first interracial hospital and nursing training school. A few years later, in 1893, a young black man by the name of James Cornish was rushed to Provident Hospital with a stab wound to the chest. Williams determined the wound was deeper near the heart, causing major damage and the patient required an immediate operation. Without the benefit of an X-ray machine, blood transfusion, penicillin, or proper antibiotics to fight infection, Williams staked his reputation as a surgeon to save Cornish’s life.
Williams asked an integrated team of six doctors, which included four whites and two blacks to observe while he operated. Williams used his extensive medical knowledge and teaching from heart procedures conducted in early years by cardiac surgeons Henry Dalton, Francisco Romero, and Dominique Jean Larrey to guide his hands in the surgery. The team of doctors observed as Williams entered Cornish’s chest cavity and successfully repaired the heart sac surrounding the heart known as the pericardium that was cut by the knife wound. The procedure was a success, and Williams became the first physician to conduct heart surgery successfully. Fifty-one days after the surgery, Cornish was discharged, walked out of the hospital and lived for 50 years after the surgery.
Williams went on to hold many prestigious medical positions; as chief surgeon of Freedmen’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., he helped to organize the National Medical Association for black professionals and became the first African American to be inducted into the American College of Surgeons. He was awarded a doctorate from Howard and Wilberforce Universities. As a sign of respect and esteem acknowledgment, a “code blue” at the Howard University Hospital emergency room is called a “Dr. Dan.”
In 1921 Williams had a stroke and died five years later in 1931 at age 75. Dr. Daniel Hale Williams left a legacy of greatness for his contributions to the medical community and African Americans. He saved many lives by establishing Provident Hospital, where he provided medical care and helped train a new generation of African American physicians and nurses. He will forever be considered a pioneering heart surgeon who help revolutionized the practice of medicine.

Cokeitha Gaddist
Cokeitha Gaddist (98 Posts)