February: A Month Short on Days, But Long on Celebrations

February, even though the shortest month on the calendar, stands tall in the monthly line up of celebrations, honors and awareness raising. Along with February being Black History Month and Heart Health Awareness Month, the month also honors two great presidents – George Washington and Abraham Lincoln- and we celebrate a day of hearts filled with love and candy on St. Valentine’s Day. In addition, the universal Church will celebrate the twenty-fifth World Day of the Sick on February 11th. What a busy month!

We at VITALity Catholic Healthcare Services are certainly focused on those matters of the heart that are aimed at keeping us healthy, both in body and in the spirit of love. Our emphasis on Heart Health and Healthy Lifestyles will be noted in our Health Notes section of our website and are designed to raise our awareness of the lifestyle choices we make that can affect our health and well-being.

As advocates for health and medical care, we celebrate Black History Month recognizing the legacy of great African-Americans who have contributed so much to healthcare and medicine. One such early pioneer in medicine was Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, who was one of the first physicians to perform open-heart surgery and who founded the first hospital in the U.S. with an interracial staff.

      Born on January 18, 1856 in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, Daniel Hale Williams pursued a career in medicine as he worked as an apprentice with Dr. Henry Palmer, a highly accomplished surgeon, and then went on to complete his training in medicine at Chicago Medical College. Dr. Williams set up his own practice in Chicago’s South Side and taught anatomy at his alma mater, also becoming the first African-American physician to work for the city’s street railway system. Williams- who was called Dr. Dan by patients- adopted sterilization procedures for his office informed by the recent findings on germ transmission and prevention from Louis Pasteur and Joseph Lister.

     Due to discrimination of the day, African-American citizens were still barred from being admitted to most hospitals and black doctors were refused staff positions. Firmly believing this needed to change, in May 1891, Dr. Williams opened Provident Hospital and Training School for Nurses, the nation’s first hospital with a nursing and intern program that had a racially integrated staff. The faculty, where Dr. Williams worked as a surgeon, was publically championed by famed abolitionist and writer Frederick Douglas.

     In 1893, Dr. Williams continued to make history when he operated on James Cornish, a man with a severe stab wound to his chest who was brought to Provident. Without the benefits of a blood transfusion or modern surgical procedures and instruments, Dr. Williams successfully sutured Cornish’s pericardium, the membranous sac enclosing the heart, thus becoming one of the first people to perform open-heart surgery. Cornish lived for many years after the operation.

     In 1885, he co-founded the National Medical Association, a professional organization for black medical practitioners, as an alternative to the American Medical Association, which didn’t allow African-American membership at that time.

     Daniel Hale Williams experienced a debilitating stroke in 1926 and died five years later, on August 4,1931, in Idlewild, Michigan. Today, Dr. Williams’ work as a pioneering physician and advocate for an African-American presence in medicine continues to be honored by institutions worldwide.

(Excerpts from www.biography.com)

We have so much to celebrate this month and not enough days to do it! However, we do set aside February 11th this year as the 25th World Day of the Sick. This year Pope Francis has challenged us to reflect on the beautiful words of Mary in his theme: “Amazement at what God has accomplished: ‘The Almighty has done great things for me…’ (Lk 1:49)

In our prayers for those who are suffering with illness, infirmity, and/or disability, and in our thanksgiving for those who give so much of themselves to provide them the care they need and deserve, we are called to dwell upon the presence of God so evident in them. A merciful God who is the source of hope and strength in their lives in their times of greatest weakness, pain and vulnerability. This year our hospital chaplains – priests, deacons, religious sisters and lay ministers- will offer special prayer services for the patients they encounter as well as for the staff and volunteers who care for them each day at all of our South Jersey hospitals. This power of prayer unites us all in our Christian call to care for those who are sick and to pray to Mary for Her intercession to Her Son, Jesus, for the touch of His healing hands of mercy and love. Bishop Sullivan will mark this day by celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation with the students in the St. John of God community. This Sacrament brings the gifts of the Holy Spirit into their lives. Lives so challenged with disabilities, but now strengthened by their great faith in Jesus. Lives that can now be for all of us, models of God’s love in the world. Lives that are lifted by the arms of love that surround them every day.

As we experience these winter days of February, let’s keep heart health front of mind and do all we can to keep ourselves healthy and fully alive in a spirit of love and self-giving. A spirit that truly lives in the love of St. Valentine’s Day and in the witness of compassionate caregiving for the sick. Let’s applaud and recognize those brave and pioneering African-Americans who have contributed so much to the history of advancements in medicine. And let us especially pray for our President and all leaders in government, that they will always give witness to the dignity of each person in this great nation by their commitment to the basic human right for life and dignity for all with affordable, accessible, and quality healthcare.

So let February stand tall on our calendars as the shortest month of the year, but the month with so much to celebrate and cherish in our lives.

God bless you with peace and all good things.

By: Deacon Jerry Jablonowski
Executive Director, VITALity Catholic Healthcare Services

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