Doctor Sews Up Gash in Heart

February 8, 1908


An African American man is stabbed at a bar and taken to the hospital where two surgeons are able to perform a rare, but successful surgery on his heart.


New York-- A few days ago the remarkable feat of sewing up a cut in a man’s heart was successfully performed by two surgeons, Drs. Blake and Dwight, at Roosevelt hospital. The patient, William Johnson, a negro about 35 years old, is still in the hospital, ill with pneumonia, but, so far as his heart is concerned, he is all right. It has healed completely.
Johnson was stabbed in the course of a saloon row with a long thin knife, which severed the fourth rib two inches to the left of the mid line, and entered the heart. He left the scene of the stabbing without telling anyone of it, and strolled about the streets for three-quarters of an hour. The wound appeared to be a slight one, and, as it was not bleeding externally at least, Johnson did not worry about it.
By and by, however, he began to feel drowsy and sat down on the curb and put his head in his hands. Here an acquaintance found him, drew from him the fact that he had been stabbed, and telephoned for an ambulance, which carried him to Roosevelt hospital.
Dr. Dwight, the house surgeon, diagnosed the case, and at one telephoned Dr. Joseph A. Blake. Within an hour and a half after the stabbing, Johnson was on the operating table, Dr. Blake performed the operation with Dr. Dwight assisting. First the surgeons made an incision along the upper border of the third rib, cutting from the sternum outward the nipple line, thence down to the lower border of the fifth rib, thence inward to the sternum, along the lower border of that rib.
This cut was deepened to the ribs, and then the third and fifth ribs were severed at the nipple line, the fourth having been cut through by the weapon that caused the wound. The operation to this point had resulted in the cutting of a sort of trap door, which was easily raised, and turned back over the sternum with the costal cartilage at a hinge.
When the trap door was lifted and the pleura exposed, the left lung collapsed, and a pint of blood was found in the pleural cavity. It was found that the lung itself was not injured, but a small wound was discovered in the pericardium, or shell which encases the heart, from which the blood was running. The pericardium was then opened, and the heart itself exposed. This exposure of the heart showed the exact nature of the wound.
In the right ventricle, close to the anterior coronary artery, there was a wound in the heart about one-half an inch in length, from which, at every contraction or beat of the heart, a little stream of blood spurted to a height of four inches. Examination showed that the wound extended to the central cavity of the heart. The heart was grasped in the hand to steady it, just as one would clasp a fluttering bird in order to examine a wound. Four stitches with silk thread were then taken in the heart, it being necessary to sew entirely through the wall of the heart for that purpose. The wound was then drawn together and the flow of blood entirely checked. Since that time, over a week ago, there has been no further bleeding from the wound in the heart, which is apparently entirely healed. Nor has there been any sign of blood poisoning. On the morning of the operation, however, the patient had a high temperature, and signs of pneumonia appeared in the lower lungs. Traces of the pneumonia still persist, and it is this, and not the condition of the man’s heart, that is causing the attending surgeons anxiety. The difficult and rarely attempted operation of sewing the heart has apparently been performed with complete success.
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Emma Alvarez




“Doctor Sews Up Gash in Heart,” Black Virginia: The Richmond Planet, 1894-1909, accessed May 20, 2019,