Daniel Hale Williams was the first person to successfully perform an open heart surgery. In the late 1800’s doctors avoided opening the chest due to the high risk of infection. However Dr. Daniel Hale Williams knew he needed to act quickly otherwise his patient, James Cornish, would die. On July 10, 1893, Williams decided to operate by opening Cornish’s chest and performing the first open heart surgery. Days later Cornish was doing fine, weeks later his condition was still improving. In fact, James Cornish went on to live 50 more years after his surgery.
Dr. Williams was born in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania on January 18, 1856. He was the fifth of seven children born to Daniel Williams Jr. and Sarah Price Williams. Daniel’s ancestors on both sides were of African, Native American and European descent. Initially young Daniel followed in his father’s footsteps and became a barber but while in his late teens he decided to enroll in Classical Academy which was a private high school. Soon after graduating Williams decided what career path he wanted to pursuit. His older brother wanted him to become a lawyer, but Daniel decided that being a doctor was the career for him. He enrolled in what is now Northwestern University Medical School and after graduating practiced medicine successfully as a surgeon. He also taught medical students as a clinical professor.