The Story of Jane Todd Crawford – The First Survivor of Ovarian Surgery
The 45-year-old patient, Jane Todd Crawford, had been misdiagnosed as being pregnant with twins. But when her pregnancy became long overdue, Jane started to get concerned
McDowell, who ran a surgical practice in Danville, Kentucky, offered a different diagnosis — a large ovarian tumor. He decided to risk the previously untried surgery and set Christmas Day for the operation.
It was a harsh December day when Jane set out on horseback from south of Greensburg to ride to Danville, Kentucky, a journey of 60 miles for several days. McDowell had refused to do the surgery anywhere but at his home where he had all of his equipment.
The procedure took 25 minutes and was scheduled to take place during church services in order to keep gawkers away. Jane was given only an oral dose of opium before being cut open; she also agreed to be held down by several strong arms (anesthesia was not invented yet).
The surgeon made a nine-inch incision and “took out 15 pounds of a dirty gelatinous-looking substance” before removing the rest of the tumor.
Jane’s recovery was uneventful. Twenty-five days later she got back on her horse and rode home. She lived another 50 years.
Dr. Ephraim McDowell became famous as the pioneer of abdominal surgical techniques. He performed the same operation on two more women, and published his report “Three Cases of Extirpation of Diseased Ovaria” in 1817.
Ironically, McDowell the abdominal expert died of a burst appendix in 1830. He was 58.