When was the first open-heart surgery performed and by whom?

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.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

0 thoughts on “When was the first open-heart surgery performed and by whom?”

  1. This is amazing. I am currently in a cardiology internship. I was able to go in to the operating room and watch open heart surgery. It is truly astonishing the amount of changes that have occurred from the time of the first open heart surgery to now. In open heart surgery today, they now use a heart-lung machine which allows for the heart to stop beating but the body to stay alive. They have even began to do surgeries where they don’t even have to use the heart-lung machine making it a beating heart surgery. They also now use many different tools such as new stitches for one. They also are a lot more efficient. There are many different kinds of successful open heart surgeries that occur now as well. There are heart transplants, valve replacements, valve repairs, as well as bypass surgeries. I greatly appreciate this blog because now I truly know how drastically our medical abilities have changed since the late 1800s.

Leave a Comment