Meet the black surgeon who saved Dr. Martin Luther King’s life after he was stabbed in 1958

Stephen Nartey June 05, 2023
Dr. Maitland played a significant role in a pivotal moment in history when his surgical team saved the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1958. Photo credit: Anne Maitland, MD via twitter

Dr. Leo Cecil Maitland was a physician who did not discriminate against any of his patients, from rich clientele to the average person who couldn’t pay for his services, Dr. Maitland was committed to providing quality medical treatment to whoever needed it. What mattered to him the most is ensuring his patients were healthy.

He designated weekends specifically to treat poor working-class patients whose strenuous schedules made it difficult to seek medical care during the weekday. As a result of this benevolence, his patients gave him the moniker, “Doctor to the Stars“.

He played a significant role in a pivotal moment in history when his surgical team saved the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1958. During a book signing event in Harlem, Dr. King was stabbed, and Dr. Maitland, along with his medical team at Harlem Hospital, operated on him for a chest stab wound.

Dr. Maitland was born in Guyana, but like many Caribbean folks, he relocated to New York at the age of 14 in search of better opportunities. He schooled at City College, and was the only African American who gained admission into Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1926.

He however withdrew his application when he learned that Columba’s teaching hospital, Columbia-Presbyterian, had a racist policy that never allowed black students in its wards, and turned his attention to New York University, which was more welcoming of persons of African American descent, according to Alpha Omega Alpha.

He emerged as one of the first four black trainees at Harlem Hospital, the surgical residency integrated by Louis T. Wright, and was the first African American surgeon in the facility, as well as the first to be appointed to the position of director of surgery.

Dr. Maitland was employed after he finished his residency training to serve as the hospital’s inaugural thoracic specialist. After years of practice, he established himself as a respected surgeon, working at various hospitals in New York. At Sydenham Hospital, he held the positions of chairman and associate director for the surgery department. His expertise and compassion earned him the love of his community.

Throughout his career, Dr. Maitland was committed to improving healthcare access for underserved communities. He was a strong advocate for increasing diversity in the medical profession and mentored many aspiring young doctors.

He also served as a clinical professor of surgery at New York University and was actively involved in medical research. Dr. Maitland passed away in 1992 at the age of 64. His legacy as a pioneering surgeon and advocate for healthcare equity continues to inspire future generations of medical professionals.

Last Edited by:Editor Updated: June 11, 2023


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