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El Dr. Daniel Williams sano, el primer cirujano del corazón del negro

por Carol Ko, Staff Writer | July 10, 2013
From the July 2013 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine


No doctor would have faulted Williams for giving his patient an opiate and leaving him to his fate. Williams had little guidance and he faced widespread professional condemnation if he failed.

Even so, he decided to take the risk. He cut into Cornish’s chest and saw that the knife had torn the pericardial sac and superficially lacerated the heart. Since he saw no evidence of hemorrhaging from either the heart or the pericardium, he felt no need to explore further.

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However, he concluded that the pericardium needed to be sutured to prevent infection and death. He irrigated the wound, sutured it with fine catgut, and dressed it. During the first 24 hours, Williams monitored Cornish’s condition closely. The patient’s pulse and temperature spiked during that time. But by the fourth day, his pulse and temperature had returned back to almost normal levels.

Three weeks after the operation, Williams operated on Cornish one more time to drain fluid in the pleural cavity, and afterward there were no further complications — the patient lived on for twenty years after the operation. Dr. Daniel Hale Williams consequently became the first black doctor to perform open-heart surgery.

After the historic operation, Williams published the account of the case at the urging of his colleagues in the Medical Record of New York on March 27, 1897. He won renown for this procedure and his operation was widely used as an instructive tool for medical students and doctors for years. With such procedures, Williams and other pioneering colleagues were able to show that cardiac wounds could be successfully repaired, paving the way for the rapid advances in cardiac surgery that followed later in the 20th century.

In December 1895, Williams helped organize the National Medical Association (NMA) — the only national organization open to black physicians at the time. He was selected to serve as its first vice president. Williams remained in active practice in Chicago until he suffered a stroke in 1926. He then moved to Idlewild, Michigan where he lived in retirement until his death in 1931.

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