The story of Dr. Daniel Hale Williams (pictured), the nation’s first African-American cardiologist and the first surgeon to perform a successful open-heart procedure, is as inspirational a tale as any. Born in the small town of Hollidaysburg in central Pennsylvania on January 18, 1858, Williams and his family would eventually move to Maryland’s capital city, Annapolis. The son of a barber, Williams became adept at the trade and took up roots in Wisconsin, where he graduated high school and later an academy by the age of 21.
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Williams would become a medical apprentice under Dr. Henry Palmer, a noted surgeon. Of Dr. Palmer’s three apprentices, all were accepted to a special three-year medical school program that was affiliated with Northwestern University in the state of Illinois.
Watch Dr. Williams’ legacy here:
Williams would earn a M.D. degree and began his practice in Chicago. During the time, Williams was one of four Black physicians working in the major city. Working both as an instructor at Northwestern University and as a practicing physician, Williams began to notice that Black patients faced discrimination and sought to combat it by joining the Illinois State Board of Health to help change some of the racist rules.
He would later found the Provident Hospital and Nursing Training School in 1891.
On this day in 1893, a stabbing victim entered Provident with wounds to the chest and heart. Dr. Williams repaired the lining of the man’s heart, thus saving his life in the process. Although he was not the first to perform such surgery, Williams would effectively lay claim to having the first successful open-heart surgery after the man recovered nearly two months later.
Even after expansion and other hardships, Provident Hospital still stands, keeping Williams’ legacy intact. With community effort and government support, the hospital survived and now serves the South Side neighborhood of Chicago.
Here’s to you, Dr. Williams!