Levi Watkins, 70, Dies; Pioneering Heart Surgeon Pushed Civil Rights

Levi Watkins, 70, Dies; Pioneering Heart Surgeon Pushed Civil Rights

Dr. Levi Watkins in 2008. (Joe Howell/Johns Hopkins Medicine)
Dr. Levi Watkins in 2008. (Joe Howell/Johns Hopkins Medicine)

Sam Roberts, THE NEW YORK TIMES

BALTIMORE (The New York Times) — Dr. Levi Watkins Jr., the first surgeon to successfully implant an automatic heart defibrillator in a human patient, and a civil rights pioneer who helped fling open medical school doors to hundreds of students who had been excluded — as he had once been — because they were black, died on Saturday in Baltimore. He was 70.

His death was announced by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, where in 1970 he became the school’s first black intern.

The day before he died, Dr. Watkins had been welcoming students to a training program at Johns Hopkins University Hospital when he became ill, the school said. The cause of death was complications of a heart attack and a stroke, the school said.

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