In celebration of the 2009 Black History Month, the Oneonta Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and The Daily Star are honoring black inventors.
Daniel Hale Williams was born in 1856 in Pennsylvania, the fifth of seven children. He was apprenticed to a physician for two years and in 1880 entered Northwestern University Medical School. After graduating in 1883, he opened his own medical office in Chicago.
Much of Williams' early medical practice called for him to treat patients in their homes, including conducting occasional surgeries on kitchen tables. He was appointed as surgeon at the South Side Dispensary and then as clinical instructor in anatomy at Northwestern. In 1889, he was named to the Illinois State Board of Health.
In 1891, Williams established the Provident Hospital and Training School Association, which employed doctors and served patients of all races. Williams insisted on the highest standards concerning procedures and sanitary conditions.
In 1893, a young black man was injured in a fight and stabbed in the chest with a knife. By the time he reached the hospital he had lost a great deal of blood and had gone into shock. Williams made the decision to operate and opened the man's chest. He saw the damage to the pericardium and sutured it, then applied antiseptic procedures before closing his chest.
Fifty-one days later, the young man walked out of the hospital completely recovered. Williams did not bother to document the event and others made claims to have first performed open-heart surgery. Fortunately, local newspapers of the day did spread the news, and Williams received the acclaim he deserved for having been the first to perform open-heart surgery, but also for being the first surgeon to open the chest cavity successfully without the patient dying of infection.
His procedures would become standards for future internal surgeries.