One day in 1893, a Chicago man named James Cornish was stabbed in the chest and rushed to Provident Hospital, bleeding to death.
Despite the medical profession’s lack of success in fixing damaged hearts, Dr. Daniel Hale Williams rushed Cornish into the operating room and called in a team of surgeons.
At the time, attempts at heart surgery invariably ended with the death of the patient for a variety of reasons.
Injuries to the heart are mortally serious and don’t allow the surgeon much time to work; even without time pressure, doing precision cutting and stitching on a still-beating heart is a near impossibility.
Still, Williams began the painstaking task of entering Cornish’s chest and repairing the knife damage to the right ventricle. Somehow the team managed to successfully suture the rip and close Cornish’s chest without him dying from either the injury or the surgery.
Miraculously, despite the unavailability of antibiotics at the time, Cornish lived and left the hospital a month later, making Dr. Williams the first person to successfully perform an open-heart surgery.
President Grover Cleveland heard about the incident and appointed Williams as head surgeon of Freedmen’s Hospital in Washington, D.C.