First doctor to perform heart surgery was Black man

(NewsNation) — Dr. Daniel Hale Williams was a trailblazer in many ways — he was the naion’s first Black cardiologist, and the first person in the nation to perform open-heart surgery.

Williams also founded a hospital that still operates today.

Williams was born on Jan. 18, 1856, in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. At the age of 10, Williams moved to Baltimore and became a shoemaker’s apprentice to help his family earn money after his father died.

It was his apprenticeship under prominent surgeon Dr. Henry Palmer, though, that sealed his path as a medical pioneer. Williams graduated from Chicago Medical College in 1883 and later opened his own medical practice in Chicago at a time when there were just two other Black doctors practicing in the city.

Williams’ reputation as a successful surgeon kept him in high demand, but his determination to tackle health care inequities, both in treatment and in training, catapulted his career.

In 1891, Williams opened the nation’s first Black-owned and interracially staffed medical facility: Provident Hospital and Training School. It’s at this very hospital where Williams reached a medical milestone when, in 1893, James Cornish was admitted with stab wounds to the chest.

This was at a time when doctors deemed operating on the heart dangerous, but with just a scalpel in hand, Williams cut a small hole in Cornish’s chest and repaired a tear in his heart lining.

Williams was able to do all this without antibiotics, anesthesia or other modern surgical tools.

Although he died in 1931, Williams’ mission lives on at what is now called Provident Hospital of Cook County in Chicago.

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