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Radio Shows | The First Ovariotomy | mp3wmawav

Imagine a time without two critically important drugs: antibiotics and anesthetics! We'll take you back to the year 1809.

A 45 year old woman, Mrs. Jane Todd Crawford, a mother of four, was told she was pregnant with twins. But things didn't feel right so when she became long overdue, she found a new doctor.

Mrs. Crawford went to see Dr. Ephraim McDowell, a well known physician in Danville, Kentucky and what he diagnosed was not twins. She had a large ovarian tumor which would have killed her if it wasn't promptly removed.

The catch is no one had ever attempted such a surgery.

Undeterred, Dr. McDowell decided to try on Christmas Day 1809 when most people would be in church. He didn't want them to know since some believed it was evil experimentation.

Mrs. Crawford rode horseback 60 miles to Dr. McDowell's home where the surgery was performed. It's tough to imagine what Mrs. Crawford endured the 25 minutes it took to remove the 22 pound tumor without the benefit of anesthetics.

She had only an oral dose of opium and several attendants to hold her down. Word was she sang hymns and repeated Psalms.

Despite not having antibiotics either, she survived and lived to 78. When Dr. McDowell published an account of this groundbreaking surgery eight years later, he created quite a stir in the medical community.

Today Dr. McDowell is considered the "Father of Ovariotomy". Ironically he died at 58 from a ruptured appendix. something that could have been fixed by a simple abdominal surgery today.

So the next time you are in Washington D.C., go visit a statue of Dr. McDowell.His contribution to medicine earned him a place in the National Statuary Hall right in the U.S. Capital complex.

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For more information…

The home of Dr. Ephraim McDowell who is credited as having preformed the first ovariotomy still exists in Danville Kentucky and is now a museum. For more about Dr. McDowell and his accomplishments as well as pictures, resources and information about location, tours and much more to their web site.

A digitized version of the memorial oration in honor of Ephraim McDowell, "the father of ovariotomy" that was delivered at Danville, Ky., at the dedication of the monument erected to the memory of Dr. Ephraim McDowell by the Kentucky State Medical Society is available online. It was published in May 14, 1879, and you can read the entire work here.

Dr. H. Biemann Otherson, Jr. published a article entitled "Ephraim McDowell: The Qualities of a Good Surgeon" in the Annals of Surgery that provides insight into Dr. McDowell. It can be read here.

For information about the statue of Dr. McDowell in the Mational Statuary Hall Collection go here.

For a sort biography of Dr. McDowell, go here.


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