Medical Pioneer. Called "The Father of Modern Surgery", he developed procedures still in use. Raised in New York in a family of wealth and position, he graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy of Andover, Massachusetts in 1869 and entered Yale University, where he was captain of the football team, but a mediocre student. He enrolled at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1874 where he compiled an excellent academic record, graduating with his medical doctorate. in 1877. Doctor Halsted interned at New York Hospital where he introduced the "hospital chart" as a way to track patients' vital signs, then trained in Germany for two years under the pioneering physician Theodor Billroth. Returning to New York, he spent the next years building his reputation as a surgeon and teacher. He performed one of the first successful gallbladder surgeries in America on his mother, as well as one of the first blood transfusions, in which he used his own blood to save his sister from post-partum hemorrhage. In 1882 he developed and publicized the Halsted radical mastectomy, still the definitive treatment for breast cancer. Doctor Halsted's life was changed for the worse in October of 1884 when he began experiments using cocaine as a local anesthetic; he became an addict and was only "cured" by switching to morphine, to which he remained addicted, taking three grains a day until his death. The formerly friendly and outgoing man became, and remained, morose and unpleasant. He moved to Baltimore, Maryland in 1888 and in 1889 joined the then-new Johns Hopkins Hospital. Doctor Halsted's problem was known and he was treated as an 'impaired provider' long before that term became part of the medical vocabulary. Drug use was legal until the passage of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914, but the doctor's condition and actions were monitored, the goal being to keep him 'functional' if not 'clean'. He became chief of surgery and a co-founder, in 1893, of the Medical School. At Johns Hopkins he pioneered modern antisepsis, introduced surgical gloves (to protect the hands of a pretty nurse), and invented the "Halsted II", which, though seldom still performed, remains the "gold standard" treatment for inguinal hernia, with complication rates essentially unchanged over the years. Doctor Halsted trained numerous surgeons in the first modern residency program; today, his procedures for breast cancer and inguinal hernia remain in use and numerous surgical instruments carry his name. An eccentric who sent his shirts to a laundry in Paris, France and who lived apart from his wife, albeit in the same large house, except for a month long annual joint vacation, he lived out his days in Baltimore and died of complications of surgery for choledocholithiasis, which had been performed by two of his former students. Some sources render his name "Halstead", but the above spelling is correct.
Bio by: Bob Hufford
Caroline Hampton Halsted