The Legacy Of Daniel Hale Williams, An African-American General Surgeon To Perform An Open Heart Surgery



Daniel Hale Williams was an African-American general surgeon who performed the second documented successful pericardium surgery (open heart surgery) in the United States in 1893. He is also credited with founding Provident Hospital, the first non-segregated hospital in the United States, which is located in Chicago, Illinois.

Daniel Hale Williams is remembered as a pioneering surgeon who performed one of the world’s first successful open-heart surgeries in 1893. Williams was born in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania on January 18, 1856, to Sarah Price Williams and Daniel Hale Williams Snr. From 1866 to 1878, Hale lived with family friends in Baltimore, Maryland, and with family in Illinois, where he worked as a shoemaker’s apprentice and barber until he decided to further his education.

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Williams’ interest in medicine began in 1878, when he began working in the office of Henry Palmer, a Wisconsin surgeon. He enrolled in the Chicago Medical College in 1880 and graduated three years later with a doctorate in Medicine. Hale immediately opened his own practice in Chicago and taught anatomy at the Chicago Medical College after graduating.

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He established high standards in medical procedures and sanitary conditions, including the use of newly discovered sterilization procedures for germ transmission and prevention. By opening his own hospital, he avoided the then-common practice of black doctors being denied staff privileges in white hospitals.

In a three-story building on Chicago’s South Side in 1891, Williams co-founded the Provident Hospital and Training School Association. At a time when only 909 black physicians served approximately 7 million African-Americans, Provident was the nation’s first black-operated and owned hospital. Furthermore, Provident was the first medical facility in the United States to have an interracial staff and the first training facility for African-American nurses. During Williams’ tenure as physician-owner (between 1891 and 1912), Provident Hospital expanded admirably, owing largely to its 87% patient recovery success rate.

In 1893, Williams risked his life by performing open heart surgery on a young black man named James Cornish, who had suffered severe stab wounds to the chest. Daniel Hale Williams opened Cornish’s chest cavity and operated on his heart despite having a limited array of surgical equipment and medicine. Cornish recovered in a month and 21 days and went on to live for the next 50 years.

Despite his recognition of the importance of racial integration in medicine, Williams Hale co-founded the National Medical Association in 1895. This was due to the fact that black physicians were denied membership in the all-white American Medical Association. Williams left the Freedmen’s Hospital in 1898 to marry Alice Johnson and move to Chicago, where he returned to Provident Hospital. Among the numerous honors and awards bestowed upon Williams, perhaps the most significant was his election as the first black member of the exclusive American College of Surgeons in 1913.

Williams joined Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, a year after settling in Chicago. Over the next two decades, he worked as a visiting clinical surgeon at various hospitals, including Cook County Hospital and St. Luke’s Hospital on Chicago’s South Side, where he served from 1907 to 1926. After surviving a crippling stroke, Williams Hale retired from St. Luke’s Hospital in 1926. He died on August 4, 1931, at the age of 75.



Written by How Africa News

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