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One For The Road: World's First Successful Heart Surgery Performed In Chicago

By Samantha Abernethy in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 9, 2012 10:30PM

On this date in 1893, Dr. Daniel Hale Williams performed the first successful open heart surgery at Provident Hospital on the South Side. The patient was James Cornish, who had stabbed in the chest during a barroom brawl.

Without Williams' actions, Cornish would most likely have bled to death. Instead he walked out the hospital fully recovered 51 days later.

The Tribune writes:

Medical textbooks of the time said that operating on a human heart was too dangerous, and there was no precedent for opening the chest. But "Dr. Dan," despite having no X-rays, antibiotics, adequate anesthesia and other tools of modern surgery, stepped into that medical no-man's-land. With a scalpel, he cut a small hole in Cornish's chest, carefully picking his way past nerves, muscle, blood vessels and ribs until he reached the rapidly beating heart. Exploring the wound, Williams found a severed artery. He closed it with sutures, but then discerned an inch-long gash in the pericardium, the tough sac that surrounds the heart. The heart itself had only been nicked and did not need sutures. But the damaged sac had to be closed. With Cornish's heart beating 130 times a minute beneath his nimble fingers, Williams closed the wound with catgut.

Williams founded Provident in 1891 as Chicago's first interracial hospital, and he is considered America's first African-American cardiologist. His accomplishments here are widely recognized as being integral to the emergence of scientific medicine and to establishing Chicago as a medical mecca.