Life-Saving Surgeries : A Woman from Chadwicks - Part Two

This is Part Two of a six-part series of news columns that detail the human side of the heart surgeries that took place in the 1950's. This second article focuses on details of the life-saving surgeries that made my mother's life possible and served as an example to nurses that the future that had arrived in Philadelphia. Nurses General Nursing Article

Life-Saving Surgeries : A Woman from Chadwicks - Part Two

To read Part 1, go to How One Doctor Gave Life to Many and How One of Those People Made That Life Worth Living - Part One

As a young person, my mother, Alice Marie McDonough did not let the risk of death stop her from marrying her childhood sweetheart, James Walter McDonough. Both grew up in towns near Scranton in northeastern Pennsylvania. She in Taylor, he in Minooka. (I would be remiss if I did not note that residents of Minooka are quick to let you know that while Minooka is legally part of Scranton, Minooka has its own culture as a distinct town.)

Neither my mother nor father grew up in what would be called a normal childhood.

Both were raised during the Great Depression without their natural fathers. My mother’s father died in a traffic accident when she was a little girl. My father’s father died when my father was a baby. My mother was raised by a very good man who married her mother years after the death of my mother’s natural father. My father was raised alongside his two brothers by the Roman Catholic priest that was the pastor at their parish.

Both of my parents moved to towns in Delaware County in suburban Philadelphia during the World War II time period. My mother graduated from Glen-Nor High School in Glenolden in 1943; she started working at Baldwin Locomotive Works in Eddystone in 1944. My father joined the United States Army and was stationed in Curacao.

After the war, they married in 1946. Eventually, they moved to Chester, Pennsylvania, and began to raise two children.

In 1952, Alice McDonough underwent her first major heart surgery. The closed-heart surgery was performed at Hanhemann Hospital in Philadelphia. (The hospital is now known as “Hanhemann University Hospital”.)

Dr. Robert P. Glover inserted his finger into the hole in her heart and stitched a thread around his finger. He did this without the ability to visually see his stitching. (Yes, you read correctly. The surgeon did not have the ability to see the stitches as he strived to repair the hole because the heart was not fully opened during closed-heart surgery.)

Both Alice and James McDonough thought that this surgery solved her problem. They went back home to Chester to get on with life.

But the surgery in 1952 was, in reality, a medical procedure to keep her alive long enough for a new procedure to be developed more fully – open-heart surgery.

She underwent that open-heart surgery at The Presbyterian Hospital in Philadelphia in 1958. (The hospital is now known as “Penn Presbyterian Medical Center”.)

In both surgeries, she knew what the odds were for success.


More than likely, the odds were for possible death.

But she also knew what the guaranteed result would be if there was no surgery.

Certain death.

Dr. Glover and his team gave Alice McDonough the opportunity to live.

In 1990, my father told me what he had thought of the doctors at that time in the 1950’s – that the doctors were “butchers”. That’s the specific term he called them. Many others during that time period, including leaders within the medical community, had similar views. Many people died on the operating table. Doctors were accused of trying to be God while operating on the heart.

At the time of the surgeries, my father was vehemently opposed to my mother proceeding with these experimental operations. He did not want to lose his wife and the mother of their two children.

When I asked my mother why she went forward with the second surgery given both my father’s view and her knowledge of what had happened during the first surgery, her answer was very simple:

“I wanted to live.”

How did two completely different viewpoints get resolved?

Simple. My mother prevailed.

So even in the 1950’s, when most wives not only listened to the advice of their husbands but also followed that advice, there were times when husbands listened to the advice of their wives and then followed that advice.

Her willingness to risk life was helped through compassion from so many people.

So many individuals worked together to try to beat the odds so that my mother would be able to live.

A team of doctors, nurses, and other technical people. The community overall. Several hospitals. Major corporations. Blood donors. An extended family. The United States Army. So many individuals, many of whom first met my mother as she lay on an operating table, in a tank of ice, or in a recovery room in a hospital.

But one specific man stands out among all those that helped. A doctor who led the efforts for life. His own life, though, was cut short by disease. While his time here on Earth was limited, he helped give life to so many others.

Part Three of this series will detail the leadership of Dr. Glover and how he saved my mother’s life.

To read Part 1, go to How One Doctor Gave Life to Many and How One of Those People Made That Life Worth Living - Part One

If you have a question or a suggestion about nursing, please contact Richard McDonough at [email protected].

Your question or suggestion may be used in a future news column.

© 2019 Richard McDonough

Richard McDonough is a freelance journalist whose work has been published in a number of digital news sites, newspapers, and magazines in the United States and in Europe. He’s also broadcast business news for a television station. Mr. McDonough was honored by the National Conference of Christians and Jews with the Gold Medallion Mass Media Award for outstanding contributions to better human relations and the cause of brotherhood. One of the approaches utilized by Mr. McDonough is civic journalism. The concept includes investigative efforts showing people how to solve civic problems and enhance civic opportunities. Several key elements include presenting the facts in a way that provide context to each situation; going to the original source for information, when and where possible; not presenting both sides of an issue, but instead, presenting all sides of an issue – whether that be 2 sides or 17 sides; and attributing all key facts to specific sources. A portfolio of his work can be viewed at TwoCents.News. Mr. McDonough has been active in charitable activities throughout the United States. His charitable efforts have been recognized by two Presidents and two national non-profit organizations. Mr. McDonough can be reached directly at [email protected]​​​​​​​.

6 Articles   6 Posts

Share this post

Share on other sites