Early Chicago: First open heart surgery

First open heart surgery

Dr. Daniel Hale Williams was the first surgeon to perform open-heart surgery. (Source: The Provident Foundation)

Dr. Daniel Hale Williams garnered widespread fame by performing what many thought impossible. In July 1893, a young black man, James Cornish, arrived at Provident Hospital with knife wounds to his chest from a violent brawl. Williams, faced with little choice, opened the man's chest and stitched a tear in the lining surrounding Cornish's heart, saving his life. Many acknowledge this groundbreaking operation as the first open-heart surgery. It was one of many dazzling achievements in William's medical career.

Dr. Williams devoted his life to improving health care and medical career opportunities for African Americans. In 1894, he was appointed by President Grover Cleveland as surgeon-in-chief at Freedmen's Hospital in Washington, D.C. One year later, Williams helped organize the National Medical Association, which was the first national professional medical organization open to black physicians. Williams returned to Provident and in 1902 became the first surgeon to successfully repair a spleen.

Dr. Williams received many honors, including being the first African American named as a Fellow in the prestigious American College of Surgeons (1913). Though Williams worked tirelessly to include other African Americans in the college, the honor would not be bestowed on another black physician for 21 years.