The south-side doctor who performed the first successful open-heart procedure | Sightseeing | Chicago Reader

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The south-side doctor who performed the first successful open-heart procedure

Daniel Hale Williams was a pioneer in many ways.

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Daniel Hale Williams - COURTESY COOK COUNTY HEALTH
  • Courtesy Cook County Health
  • Daniel Hale Williams

At the intersection of 29th and Dearborn, down by [Daniel Hale] Williams Park in the Douglas community area, stood the Provident Hospital and Training School Association. There, pioneering African-American physician Daniel Hale Williams both established the first integrated hospital and performed the first successful open-heart surgery.

Williams was born in Pennsylvania in 1856 and graduated from what is now known as Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in 1883. He treated whites and African-Americans, but segregation prohibited him from working in a hospital, so he helped to establish Provident. In 1890, Armour & Company provided the down payment to purchase a three-story, 12-bed facility in Douglas. On January 23, 1891, Provident was established with a charter "to maintain a hospital and training school for nurses in the City of Chicago, Illinois, for the gratuitous treatment of the medical and surgical diseases of the sick poor." Williams served as the chief of staff. He later helped establish the National Medical Association in 1895, when the American Medical Association was still segregated.

On July 9, 1893, James Cornish, an African-American train expressman, was stabbed in the chest in a bar fight and was taken to Provident, which unlike most hospitals of the time admitted African-Americans. The wound initially appeared superficial to Williams. Overnight, however, Cornish's heartbeat grew weaker.

On July 10, Williams sutured Cornish's pericardium, the double-walled membrane that surrounds the heart. He worked without the benefit of blood transfusion, which would not be used widely until Austrian Karl Landsteiner identified the A, B, and O blood types in 1901. Williams did adopt the newfangled use of antiseptics. Cornish recovered and was able to leave the hospital 51 days later.

Some credit Catalonian physician Francisco Romero with the beginning of cardiac surgery in 1801; others grant the honor to French military surgeon Dominique-Jean Larrey during the Napoleonic Wars in 1810. Henry C. Dalton is also rumored to have performed a surgery similar to Williams's at Saint Louis City Hospital in 1891.

None of these events, however, diminish Williams's 1893 achievement in performing a successful open-heart surgery more than a century prior to the invention of the YouTube tutorial. Consider him the first Chicagoan to perform one to boot!  v

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