From Shoe Repair to Heart Repair

Daniel Hale Williams was born in 1856 in Pennsylvania. He was the fifth child born to biracial parents. After Daniel’s father died when he was 9, he was apprenticed to a shoemaker but ran away and opened his own barber shop.

Daniel later became an apprentice to a local doctor, and this sparked him to renew his education so he could study medicine. At the age of 24, he entered what is now called Northwestern University Medical School. A local activist in the African American community funded his medical school education.

When Dr. Williams began to practice medicine, he treated people of all races, but he was not allowed to work in hospitals. He founded his own hospital just 8 years after graduating from medical school. Provident Hospital was created to provide access to healthcare for African Americans, but its staffing was integrated.

On July 10, 1893 James Cornish came to the hospital with a stab wound requiring heart surgery. Very few heart surgeries had ever been performed at the time. Dr. Williams performed the surgery knowing that his patient would die otherwise. Even though Dr. Williams lacked capability for blood transfusions and other surgical procedures, the surgery was a success and the patient lived for many years after the surgery.

Dr. Williams moved to Washington DC where he became the chief surgeon for the Freedman’s Hospital. The hospital was established to provide care for former slaves but was in terrible condition. Dr. Williams worked to bring the hospital up to a standard of care provided in other hospitals.

Throughout his career, Dr. Williams worked to improve the healthcare hopes of African Americans. This included increasing the opportunities for African Americans to receive training as medical care givers. He also founded the National Medical Association as a professional society for African American doctors. The American Medical Association would not admit African Americans at the time.

Dr. Williams died at the age of 75 leaving a legacy of hope for all African Americans, both those aspiring for careers in the medical professions and those needing proper care.

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“Don’t let anyone tell you anything is impossible. The word future surgeon itself says ‘I’m possible”. – Unknown

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