William McKinley: Could Roswell Park Have Saved Him?

McKinley was shot twice at close range on Sept. 6, 1901. One bullet bounced harmless off his sternum and did not enter his body 1a. The other entered the left upper quadrant of his abdomen, piercing the front and back walls of the stomach 1b.

He underwent surgery within hours. He survived the operation, but died on the ninth post-operative day. Both his post-operative course MORE 2a and his autopsy MORE 2b have been meticulously documented 3 4.

There was intense controversy about McKinley's medical care MORE. Some thought that McKinley could have been saved had renowned surgeon Roswell Park performed the operation SEE BELOW. More recent commentators believe, however, that McKinley died from pancreatic necrosis, a condition which is still difficult to treat today, and which the surgeons of McKinley's time could not have treated or prevented 1.

Roswell Park was in the middle of an operation in Niagra Falls when McKinley was shot. He was called to Buffalo immediately, and a special train was sent, but he was delayed in returning.

The operation on McKinley's abdomen was performed by a gynecologist, without the benefit of any lighting in the operating room. The anesthetic (ether?) prevented the lighting of the gas lamps, and by 5pm it was getting dark in the O.R. The President's personal physician arrived at this time and rigged a system to reflect the setting sun into the room.

In addition, there were no retractors available -- in fact, there were few instruments available at all in the O.R. No one noticed Park's complete surgical set in the anteroom.

There are those who think Park could have saved McKinley had he operated. It is pertinent to note that Park later treated (successfully) a woman who, distraught over McKinley's assassination, inflicted the same type of wound on herself with the same caliber gun. 5a

Cited Sources
  1. Fisher, Jack. Stolen Glory: The McKinley Assassination. Alamar Books, 2001.
    a  p. xii  b  p.77
  2. Braisted, William C.; Bell, William Hemphill; Rixey, Presley Marion. The Life Story of Presley Marion Rixey: Surgeon General, U. S. Navy 1902-1910: Biography and Autobiography. Strasburg, VA: Shenandoah Publishing House, Inc., 1930.
    a  pp.51-70  b  pp.71-82

    Comment: Dr. Rixey was the White House physician for both William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.

  3. Rixey, PM; Mann, MD; Mynter, H; Park, R; Wasdin, E; McBurney, C; Stockton, CG. Death of President McKinley. J.A.M.A. 1901;37:779.
  4. Rixey, PM; Mann, MD; Mynter, H; Park, R; Wasdin, E; McBurney, C; Stockton, CG. The official report on the case of President McKinley. J.A.M.A. 1901;37:1029.
  5. Brooks, Stewart M. Our Murdered Presidents: The Medical Story. New York: Frederick Fell, 1966.
    a  pp.148, 152, 170

    Comment: LCC shelving code R703 B873 1966.

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