Trailblazers in Cardiology
Photo Image: Daniel Hale Williams, MD
Dr. Daniel Hale Williams (January 18, 1856 - August 4, 1931) was an African American surgeon who, in 1893, became the nation's first African-American surgeon to successfully perform an open-heart procedure. He also founded Provident Hospital and Nursing Training School, the first non-segregated hospital in the United States. In 1895 he co-founded the National Medical Association for African American doctors; and in 1913 became a charter member, and the only African American doctor in the American College of Surgeons. To this day, Provident Hospital still stands preserving Dr. Williams' legacy and commitment to the African American community. With community effort and government support, the hospital survived and now serves the Southside neighborhood of Chicago. (heart valve page)
Recovering from an open heart procedure can be a very trying experience. Click the links for more information on recovering after a major heart event and how to reclaim your life by gaining the necessary tools and support to help you thrive!
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Photo Image: Levi Watkins, Jr., MD
Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. (June 13, 1944 – April 11, 2015) was an African American surgeon and civil rights activist. As a teen, Dr. Watkins was committed to advancing the rights of African Americans, notably participating in the 1955-1956 Montgomery bus boycott, a pivotal moment in the US civil rights movement; and later serving as a part-time volunteer driver for Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. who pastored his church growing up in Alabama. As Dr. Watkins advanced in his medical career, he never left these roots behind and later served to break many barriers in the medical field. He became the first African American to be admitted to and to graduate from Vanderbilt University’s School of Medicine, he developed the cadiac arrhythimia service at Johns Hopkins and in 1980, Dr. Watkins performed the world's first human implantation of the automatic defibrillator in a human patient.
To learn more about medical devices watch this webinar Women, Heart Disease and Medical Devices featuring WomenHeart’s Scientific Advisory Council member and Medical Director of Rush Heart Center for Women, Annabelle Volgman, MD, FACC. Also, check out WomenHeart’s Surgical Procedures Guide for more information on common procedures for advanced heart disease and what you should know.
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Photo Image: Dr. Marie Daly
Dr. Marie Daly (April 16, 1921 – October 28, 2003) Dr. Daly was an American biochemist. She was the first Black American woman in the United States to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry (awarded by Columbia University in 1947). Dr. Daly worked as a physical science instructor at Howard University from 1947 to 1948 while simultaneously conducting research under the direction of Herman R. Branson. Dr. Daly also served as an investigator for the American Heart Association and was especially interested in how hypertension affects the circulatory system. She was a member of the prestigious board of governors of the New York Academy of Sciences for two years.
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Photo Image: Hamilton Naki
Hamilton Naki In 1967 Dr. Naki, a laborer who became a self-taught surgeon of such skill that Dr. Christiaan N. Barnard chose him to assist in the world's first human heart transplant in 1967, but whose contribution was kept secret for three decades because he was a black man in apartheid-era South Africa and could not operate on Caucasian patients or touch their blood. White, Chief surgeon, Dr. Christian Barnard, immediately became a celebrity. Dr. Hamilton Naki was not allowed to appear on photos with the team. If he was accidentally captured on a picture, the hospital said he was with the cleaning service, making him a secret surgeon. Dr. Barnard began to acknowledge Mr. Naki's work only after the end of apartheid in 1991. In an interview shortly before his death in 2001, he called Mr. Naki "one of the great researchers of all time in the field of heart transplants."
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Photo Image: Vivien Theodore Thomas
Vivien Theodore Thomas (August 29, 1910 – November 26, 1985) was an African American surgical technician who developed the procedures used to treat blue baby syndrome in the 1940s. Blue Baby Syndrome is a potentially fatal blood disorder in infants in which there is a reduction in the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood. He was the assistant to surgeon Alfred Blalock in Blalock's experimental animal laboratory at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, and later at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD. He served as supervisor of the surgical laboratories at Johns Hopkins for 35 years. In 1976 Hopkins awarded him an honorary doctorate and named him an instructor of surgery for the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Without any education past high school, Thomas rose above poverty and racism to become a cardiac surgery pioneer and a teacher of operative techniques to many of the country's most prominent surgeons. There is a television film based on his life entitled Something the Lord Made which premiered May 2004 on HBO.
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Photo Image: Paul L. Underwood, Jr., MD
Dr. Paul Underwood, Jr. (March 23, 1960 - ) was born in Knoxville, TN. After Underwood graduated from Austin-East High School in 1976, he received his B.S. degree in biology at Morehouse College with departmental honors and his M.D. degree from The Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Medicine in Rochester, MN. Dr. Underwood completed his post graduate training at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, MI, the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and the Iowa Heart Center.
In 2004, Dr. Underwood was appointed as the tenth president of the Association of Black Cardiologists, where he served until 2006. Under Dr. Underwood’s leadership, the organization developed various community based programs including Changing Health Outcomes by Improving Cardiovascular Education and Screenings (CHOICES), and the Center for Continuing Education and Professional Development (CCEPD), which is ranked in the top five percent of accredited providers. Dr. Underwood also developed Project Hope, a project that provided Hurricane Katrina evacuees with medical care and refurbished medical records. Also in 2004, Dr. Underwood led the Association of Black Cardiologists to manage and unveil the results of the African American Heart Failure Trial (A-HeFT), the first study conducted in a heart failure population in which all of the participants identified themselves as black. The results of the study led to the production of the drug, BiDil, the first ever heart medication specifically geared towards African Americans—the racial demographic with the highest percentage of heart disease.
For more information on clinical trials and the importance of participation, please visit
our Clinical Research webpage.
The Association of Black Cardiologists (ABC) is a WomenHeart Coalition member. For a list of other Coalition members and more information on ABC, click here.
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Photo Image: Velma Scantlebury, MD, FACS
Dr. Velma Scantlebury-White became America's first black female transplant surgeon in 1989. In her 16 years at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and subsequently at the University of Southern Alabama, Dr. Scantlebury dedicated herself to increasing the number of kidney transplants for black patients. She took the lead in educating black Americans about donating organs and tissues for transplantation, and as of 2007, she had performed more than 800 cadaver and 200 living-donor transplant surgeries in children and adults. Dr. Scantlebury had co-authored more than 100 research publications, monographs and book chapters; and was twice named one of America's Best Doctors.
For more information on heart disease and transplants be sure to view our heart transplant pa.
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Photo Image: Elizabeth Ofili, MD, MPH, FACC
Dr. Elizabeth Ofili is a researcher in women’s heart disease and a former WomenHeart Scientific Advisory Council member who became the very first woman president of the Association of Black Cardiologists (ABC) in 2000. Dr. Ofili is nationally recognized for her expertise in the field of echocardiography, the use of sound waves to study the heart and how it functions. She received the Young Investigator Research Award from the American Society of Echocardiography and Mallinckrodt Cardiology in 1993 for her echo studies of myocardial blood flow. In 1997 Dr. Ofili was cited by Heart and Soul Magazine as one of the nation's top twenty-five Black Female Doctors. She received the National Institutes of Health's 1999 Center of Clinical Research Excellence Award and the Nannette K. Wenger Award for Health Policy in 2001. That same year she was recognized as one of America's leading physicians by Black Enterprise Magazine. Dr. Ofili also serves on the board of trustees of the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates and the Pfizer Women's Health Initiative.
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Photo Image: Regina Benjamin, MD, MBA
Regina Benjamin (born October 26, 1956) is an American physician and a former vice admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps who served as the 18th Surgeon General of the United States. She received her M.D. degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and completed her residency in family practice at the Medical Center of Central Georgia. When discussing her experience as the first member of her family to attend medical school, she stated "I had never seen a black doctor before I went to college." Using this as motivation, Dr. Benjamin started a career of ‘barrier-breaking’ accomplishments. In 1995, she was elected to the Board of Trustees of the American Medical Association, making her both the first physician under age 40 and the first African American woman to be elected. In 2009, President Barack Obama announced the choice of Dr. Benjamin for the position of Surgeon General of the United States and later that year she was unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate.
Dr. Benjamin accepted the President's nomination, and made clear her dissatisfaction with the current health care system, in terms of accessibility as well as cost. Also in accepting her nomination, Dr. Benjamin described her own hardships faced by disease and illness in her own family from what she described as “preventable diseases” – her father died of high blood pressure and diabetes.
In January 2010, Dr. Benjamin released her first document, entitled "The Surgeon General’s Vision for a Healthy and Fit Nation." In it she highlighted the alarming trend of overweight and obese Americans, and offered a blueprint for grassroots efforts to make changes that promote the health and wellness of families and communities. Dr. Benjamin received the Nanette K. Wenger award in 2012 for her exceptional service in addressing chronic diseases such as heart disease.
Check out WomenHeart’s High Blood Pressure Highlight and be sure to learn what other risk factors you should know about such as family history.
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