Black History:  Special Delivery!!

levi watkins jr
Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr.

In 1980, Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. (1944-2015) performed the first implantation of an automatic defibrillator in a human heart. Watkins was also a professor of cardiac surgery and an associate dean at John Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore Maryland. Dr. Watkins was born in Parson, Kansas. He grew up in Montgomery, AL and became good friends with civil rights leader, Dr. Ralph Abernathy. He also met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who, at the time had just started preaching at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. Watkins was inspired by Dr. King and also became involved in the civil rights movement, serving as a volunteer driver transporting church members who were participating in the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1956.

He entered Tennessee State University in 1962 majoring in biology and graduated with honors in 1966. He was the first African American admitted to Vanderbilt School of Medicine in Nashville, TN. As the only black student in the medical school, he faced a great deal of racism and prejudice. His experience at Vanderbilt was lonely and he was often isolated. He graduated in 1970 and was the first African American graduate of the medical school.  Watkins was also the first African American intern at Johns Hopkins University Medical. He then completed studies in physiology at Harvard University’s Medical School. While there he conducted breakthrough research related to congestive heart failure. Watkins then returned to Johns Hopkins as the first African American chief resident in heart surgery.

Dr. Watkins performed the first implantation of an automatic defibrillator in February 1980. He joined a medical team working on the defibrillator that included Michel Mirowski, Morton Mower and William Staewen. Watkins was assisted by Dr. Vincent Gott the chief of cardiac surgery. The operation was performed on a 57 year old woman from California. A defibrillator is a battery powered device that detects arrhythmia in the heart and emits an electric shock to correct it. The device has saved more than one million lives. Watkins was also a member of the medical school’s admission committee where he focused on recruiting African American students and addressing racial inequality within the medical school. His recruitment efforts resulted in the Medical school’s admissions of African American students increasing by 400% in a four year period.. Dr. Watkins died at the age of 70 in Baltimore, Maryland. Recent Posts:

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