Daniel Hale Williams Performed the First Successful Open Heart Surgery During an Emergency Procedure


When James Cornish stumbled into the recently established Provident Hospital one summer night in 1893, he probably wasn’t thinking about making history or being part of a seminal moment in both American medical advancement and racial politics. Instead, he was more likely concerned with the significant amount of blood he was losing from the several deep stab wounds in his chest, which clearly required emergency treatment.

Fortunately, Cornish, a young Black man, staggered into the race-inclusive Provident Hospital, the first Black-owned and operated hospital in the United States, during an evening in which its founder, a brilliant surgeon named Daniel Hale Williams, was on the premises. As Cornish’s condition worsened, Williams made the bold choice to operate directly on his heart, attempting what was at the time medically unprecedented.

Williams rose from humble beginnings to become a trailblazer

Born in Pennsylvania in 1856, Williams began working by the time he was 10 years old, following his father’s death from tuberculosis. Williams apprenticed for a shoemaker in Maryland and then ran off to join the rest of his family in the Midwest, where he worked in the family barbershop business. When he was 22, Williams was inspired by a local doctor to pursue a career in medicine.

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