Friday, September 21, 2012

Telling the Story of Jane Todd Crawford – The First Survivor of Ovarian Surgery

Jane's Original Marker
Joy in the Cemetery
It was during my cemetery wanderings last year that I discovered the grave, and the incredible story, of Jane Todd Crawford. She was the first woman, the first person actually, to undergo and survive abdominal surgery. Jane underwent this operation for the removal of an ovarian tumor – a 22-pound ovarian tumor – in 1809.

Dr. Ephraim McDowell's House
First Abdominal Surgery
I wrote a blog post about her courage to be the first to undergo ovarian surgery last September.  Jane’s story has stayed with me throughout the following year.  Last autumn, I visited the house in Kentucky where the surgery took place.  The more I’ve learned about Jane and her story, the more I've felt that something must be done to make her legacy more prominent and lasting.

Jane Todd Crawford on
Jane Todd Crawford Project FB
A couple of months ago I started a Facebook group called the Jane Todd Crawford Project, I have now launched a KickStarter project for the book I’m writing about her life @  Incredibly, Jane’s story is being lost and forgotten.

Jane Todd Crawford
 It’s December 1809, Jane’s ‘pregnancy’ has gone beyond nine months - well beyond.  A country doctor diagnosis’s her with an ovarian tumor, a death sentence.  But he thinks he can operate and, maybe, save her.  He tells Jane that this surgery has never been done. But Jane has no other options; she agrees to take this chance.  

Preparing to Operate
Jane Arrives for Surgery
Jane travels 60 miles on horseback, resting the tumor on the saddle pommel. The journey takes several days, during a snowy December, to reach the doctor’s house.  Anesthesia doesn’t yet exist; Jane agrees to be held down by several strong arms.  Outside, the cries of an angry mob can be heard as they await word that Jane has died.  They plan to lynch the doctor for having the nerve to 'play God.'  The operation takes 25 grueling minutes. In the end, the country doctor, who thinks he can pull this off - does, and Jane has a second chance at life! 

McDowell Statue
Dr Ephraim McDowell
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.  He continued practicing medicine until his death, ironically, from an apparent appendicitis on June 25, 1830.  His home in Danville is now a museum and a National Historic Landmark.  The Medical Society of Kentucky in Danville erected a statue in his honor in 1879.

Jane Todd Crawford Trail
Jane's Monument
Jane Todd Crawford is remembered with a large marker at her grave, put in place in 1940.  There is also a small marker located in the backyard of the McDowell House and Museum.  And, Jane also has a country road named after her…

Crawford Cabin in Kentucky
The book I’m writing will look at Jane’s life, at a woman’s life, at the beginning of the nineteenth century in Kentucky and Indiana. The risks, the fears, the hardships endured when you have only your family, your faith, and your wits to sustain you.  In the Kentucky backwoods, in 1809, Jane risked it all – and won! And thanks to her courage, ovarian (and abdominal) surgery became accepted, and survivable.

Ovarian Cancer Stats
September is National Ovarian Cancer Month.  It’s been over 200 years since Jane underwent that fateful surgery, but ovarian cancer remains a horrifying and silent killer.  Its now the fifth leading cause of cancer-related death among women, and is the deadliest of gynecologic cancers. And the odds are still terrible: A woman’s lifetime risk of developing invasive ovarian cancer is 1 in 71. 
A woman’s lifetime risk of dying from invasive ovarian cancer is 1 in 95. Ovarian cancer survival rates are still much lower than other cancers that affect women.
I am launching Jane Todd Crawford @ in order to raise funds to write this book that will tell Jane’s story, and raise awareness about ovarian cancer. 

I appreciate any assistance you can give, be it a mention or share on Facebook or Twitter, a visit to the Jane Todd Crawford group page, watching the video that explains what I’m planning to accomplish in the next year, even a donation, in any amount, will help to move this project along.
I feel passionately about this project and believe that with your help, we can revive Jane's story of incredible courage, and help move the effort to eliminate ovarian cancer to new heights.
Thank you for anything you can do to help!
~ Joy

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