In 1888, nine years after Robert Felkin brought back his amazing story from Uganda, Dr. Howard A. Kelly of Philadelphia, a brilliant young obstetrician who would go on to help found the medical school at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, announced at a convention of the fledgling American Gynecological Society that he had performed the first successful Caesarean section in Philadelphia in 51 years—that is, the mother had survived the operation.
Very few members of the audience he was addressing that day had ever attempted even one Caesarean section because, at the time, the procedure virtually always ended in the mother's death.
Robert Felkin, a British physician and missionary, reported witnessing a Caesarean section performed by an indigenous healer in Kahura, Uganda, in 1879 that featured antisepsis, anesthesia, cauterizing and sutures.
The woman had been given banana wine, and had been secured to a table with bark cloth at her chest and thighs. A couple of men held her waist and ankles. The practitioner cleaned his hands and the woman's belly with banana wine and water, and then he made one quick, vertical incision through the skin, and a second through the uterus.
An assistant cauterized the wound when it bled with a red-hot iron. The baby was lifted out and the placenta removed. The woman was rolled over so the fluid could drain out of her abdomen, and then the abdominal wall, but not the uterus, was sutured with bark cloth and sharp skewers. A paste made of chewed roots was slathered over the incision and covered with a banana leaf and a cloth bandage.
The skewers were removed after a week. The wound had healed by the time Dr. Felkin left 11 days later, and mother and baby, who mostly had been nursed by a friend, were doing fine, he reported.