As we celebrate Black History Month, our Gift of Hope community recognizes and honors the men and women of color who have made significant advancements in medicine, donation, and transplantation for all people, and in the work we do today.
In the field of organ and tissue donation and transplantation, Clive O. Callender, MD, is a legendary Howard University Hospital surgeon who founded the National Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program (MOTTEP). MOTTEP works to educate and save lives in ethnic minority communities by dispelling common myths about organ/tissue/eye donation and transplantation, and encouraging healthier living. Dr. Callender has educated communities worldwide on minority organ donation and healthy lifestyles that can prevent the need for transplants. He aggressively strives to help solve the number one problem in transplantation: the shortage of registered donors. He attended Meharry Medical College in Nashville, where he received his medical degree in 1963.
James McCune Smith, MD, was the first Black doctor with a medical degree in the United States. Born in 1813, as a Black man, Smith was barred from earning his degree in the United States. He earned his medical degree in Glasgow, Scotland, when no American university would admit him. Dr. Smith completed his education and returned to New York, becoming known as leading abolitionist working alongside Frederick Douglass to end slavery. Together, they established the National Council of Colored People in 1853, the nation’s first permanent national organization to advance justice for African Americans.
Daniel Williams, MD, performed the first open-heart surgery and owned the first interracial Black-owned hospital. Born in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, on January 18, 1856, he graduated with his medical degree in 1883 from Chicago Medical College and practiced medicine in Chicago when only three other Black physicians practiced. He practiced when racism and discrimination prohibited African Americans from being admitted to hospitals and denied Black doctors employment on hospital staffs. Dr. Williams founded the Provident Hospital and Training School for Nurses, now called Provident Hospital of Cook County in Chicago. This hospital was the first of its kind in the United States with distinction as the first medical facility with an interracial staff.
Alexa Irene Canady, MD, was the first female African American neurosurgeon in the United States. She earned a scholarship to the University of Michigan Medical School and graduated cum laude in 1975. Although an exceptional student, she faced prejudice and discriminatory comments during her surgical internship as she the first black and female intern in the program, once being called an “equal-opportunity package” by a hospital administrator. Dr. Canady later became chief of neurosurgery at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan from 1987 she retired in June 2001. The many recognitions of her pioneering achievements include induction into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame.
Ben Carson, MD, may be best known for running for president in 2016 and serving as U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He also is a world-famous, pioneering brain surgeon who developed groundbreaking techniques to treat brain-stem tumors and revitalized methods for controlling seizures. Dr. Carson was appointed director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore. In 1987, at age 35, he received global acclaim when he performed the first successful separation of conjoined twins attached at the back of the head. Dr. Carson’s medical breakthrough was the first successful operation of its kind. In 1997, he again successfully separated twins joined at the chest.
So many more Black physicians, nurses, healthcare professionals, and leaders whose work has advanced organ and tissue donation and lifesaving transplants—leading to many thousands of lives saved and healed.
We honor them and celebrate them, along with our Black leaders, healthcare colleagues and all to those at work today creating breakthroughs and future history in medicine, particularly supporting those affected by the need for donation and empowering our communities and families to make informed decisions about organ, eye and tissue donation and transplantation.