Grateful American® Foundation

Who performed the first abdominal surgery in the US?

December 25th

440px-Ephraim_McDowellDecember 25, 1809 — Physician Ephraim McDowell (November 11, 1771 – June 25, 1830) performed the first abdominal surgery in the US today – removing a 22.5-pound ovarian tumor.

Born in Rockbridge County, VA, the American physician and pioneer surgeon has been called “the father of ovariotomy,” as well as founding father of abdominal surgery — thanks to a December 13, 1809, McDowell house call to see Jane Todd Crawford in Green County, Kentucky.

Her physicians thought that Crawford was beyond term pregnant, but McDowell diagnosed an ovarian tumor. After a 60-mile horseback ride to his home in Danville, Crawford underwent the surgery on Christmas morning. Performed without the benefit of anesthetic, it took 25 minutes to perform the surgery. Crawford made an uncomplicated recovery, and lived another 32 years.

McDowell did not publish a description of his procedure until 1817, after he had performed two more such operations.

Words of Wisdom

Having never seen so large a substance extracted, nor heard of an attempt, or success attending any operation such as this required, I gave to the unhappy woman information of her dangerous situation. The tumor appeared full in view, but was so large we could not take it away entire. We took out 15 pounds of a dirty, gelatinous looking substance. After which we cut through the fallopian tube, and extracted the sac, which weighed seven pounds and one half. In five days I visited her, and much to my astonishment found her making up her bed.

How is it that I have been so peculiarly fortunate with my patients of this description?, I know not; for, from all the information I can obtain, there has not one individual survived who has been operated, on elsewhere, for diseased ovaria. I can only say that the blessing of God has rested on my efforts.

— Dr. Ephraim McDowell (1817), describing the first surgery to remove an ovarian tumor

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