Friday, November 11, 2016

Birth Dates of Notable Kentuckians: November 11, 1771 - Ephraim McDowell


Ephraim McDowell.
Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine (B017755).



From The Kentucky Encyclopedia -
Ephraim McDowell, physician and surgeon who introduced pioneering techniques in abdominal surgery, was born on November 11, 1771, in Augusta (later Rockbridge) County, Virginia. He was the ninth of eleven children of Samuel and Mary (McClung) McDowell. His family moved to Danville, Kentucky, in 1784. Schooled in Georgetown and Bardstown, McDowell studied medicine with Alexander Humphreys of Staunton, Virginia, attended a course of lectures at the University of Edinburgh School of Medicine, and studied anatomy and surgery with John Bell.

McDowell returned to Danville in 1795 and built a busy practice, earning a regional reputation as a skillful anatomist and surgeon, widely consulted by other practitioners. McDowell did not keep notes on his cases, however, and published only two articles, both of them in an obscure journal, the Eclectic Repertory And Analytical Review. Recognition of the significance of his work came slowly and only decades after he performed the first successful ovariotomy, on Christmas Day 1809. The forty-seven-year-old patient, Jane (Todd) Crawford, who had been thought to be pregnant with twins, was in fact suffering from a large cystic ovarian tumor that weighed more than twenty pounds.

In a letter describing the surgical procedure that would subsequently bring him international fame, McDowell said he had warned Crawford that four of the "most eminent Surgeons in England and Scotland had uniformly declared in their Lectures that such was the danger of Peritoneal Inflammation, that opening the abdomen to extract the tumor was inevitable death. But notwithstanding this, if she thought herself prepared to die, I would take the lump from her if she could come to Danville." The surgery went well and Crawford was "perfectly well in twenty-five days." McDowell performed the operation well before the discovery of the importance of aseptic techniques or the introduction of anaesthetics.

McDowell performed the procedure at least eleven additional times, with but one death. He was one of the first surgical pathologists, carefully preserving and studying specimens removed during surgical procedures. Dr. Samuel D. Gross, a professor of surgery in the school of medicine of the University of Louisville during the 1840s and 1850s, publicized McDowell's accomplishments and secured for McDowell his proper place in the annals of abdominal and gynecological surgery. McDowell was one of the founders of Centre College in Danville, and between 1819 and 1829 served on the college's board of trustees.

On December 29, 1802, McDowell married Sarah Hart Shelby, the daughter of the first governor of Kentucky, Isaac Shelby (1792-96 and 1812-16). The couple had six children, five of whom survived: Susan, Mary, Adaline, Catherine, and William Wallace. McDowell died on June 25, 1830, and is buried in Danville.

ALLEN J. SHARE, Entry Author

Selected Sources at UK Libraries:

Ridenbaugh, Mary Young. The Biography of Ephraim McDowell, M.D., "the Father of Ovariotomy.". New York: C.L. Webster, 1890. Print.
B M148r, Special Collections Research Center - Biography Collection

Gray, Laman A. The Life and times of Ephraim McDowell. Danville, Ky.: Ephraim McDowell House, 1983. Print.
R154.M32 G720 1980, Young Library - 5TH Floor

Gladstone, Jo., and King Features Entertainment, Inc. Ephraim McDowell's Kentucky Ride. New York, NY: King Features Entertainment, 1981. Tales of Medical Life.
AV-V2244, Young Media Library

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