Awareness gives us the ability to be conscious of events and an opportunity to recognize outstanding efforts. February offers opportunities to build awareness and support for many causes that mean a great deal to my family. They are American Heart Month, Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week (February 7-14) and Black History Month. As I look at these three causes, I pause to appreciate an uncanny connection between a few African Americans who were pioneers in the medical field and their exceptional contributions that have significantly impacted my family. Take a look at a few trailblazers:
Daniel H. Williams, MD, 1856-1931
Dr. Williams is celebrated as one of the first physicians to perform a successful open-heart surgery in the late 1800s. Catherine’s heart surgery for a congenital heart defect was more than two centuries later. I am grateful for Dr. Williams’ work and that of others to perform a procedure that future physicians were able to build upon to care for the smallest patient.
Charles Drew, MD, 1904-1950
Dr. Drew developed methodology to preserve blood plasma to support sustainable blood storage. In addition, he discovered that individuals have a certain blood type (A, B, AB or O). During Catherine’s surgeries, she received numerous blood transfusions that were important to her survival as she fought infections and challenges with iron deficiency. I recall sitting in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit the first night after her first surgery. The physicians and nurses raced around to stabilize her with medications and a blood transfusion.
Patricia Bath, MD, 1942-
Dr. Bath is distinguished as the first African American to complete a residency in ophthalmology and receive a medical patent. Her invention is a device that uses laser technology to improve the treatment of cataract. The improvements led to less pain for patients, decreased healing time and reduced risks for infection. One of Catherine’s grandfathers underwent cataract surgery. It is comforting to know he benefited from the work of Dr. Bath.
It is wonderful to step through history and remember the work of African Americans who made substantial enhancements in the medical field. Thanks to their contributions, we benefited and had access to care Catherine needed to survive. Countless other patients, both young and old, have benefited as well.