Physician, inventor of intubation; b. at Cleveland, 1841; d. in New York, January 7, 1898. He was educated in the public schools of London, Ontario, and studied medicine in the office of Dr. Anderson. After two years of apprenticeship he entered the College of Physicians (New York) from which he was graduated in 1865. He won first place in the competitive examination for resident physicians of the Charity, now the City, Hospital of New York City on Blackwell's Island. Twice during his service he contracted cholera. After the completion of his service he took up private practice. Four years later (1872) he was appointed to the staff of the New York Foundling Asylum.
The deaths of many children by suffocation when diphtheria brought about closure of the larynx proved too sad a sight for him, so he tried to find something to keep the larynx open. He used a wire spring and experimented with a small bivalve speculum but to no purpose. The inflamed mucous membrane and false membrane forced themselves into the interstices and the difficulty of breathing returned. Besides, the pressure produced ulceration. Finally he tried a tube. The use of a tube for intubation had often been attempted but unsuccessfully. O'Dwyer succeeded in devising the form of tube that would remain and then ingeniously fashioned instruments for the placing and displacing of the tube. After a dozen years of diligent study this method of relieving difficulty of breathing proved successful. Most of his medical colleagues were sure that O'Dwyer's scheme was visionary. Before his death it was universally acknowledged that he had made the most important practical discovery of his generation. His tubes and the accompanying instruments for intubation and extubation, with his methods for the care of these patients, have since come to be employed everywhere throughout the medical world. The tubes are also of great value in stenosis of the larynx due to various other diseases, such as syphilis, and to strictures of the larynx, especially consequent on burns or scalds.
Afterwards O'Dwyer devoted himself to the study of pneumonia, but late in December 1897 he developed symptoms of a brain lesion, probably of infectious origin, which proved fatal. He was a fervent Catholic. His work at the Foundling Hospital helped greatly to make that institution one of the best of its kind.
NORTHROP, Joseph O'Dwyer; Medical Record (New York, 1904); WALSH, Makers of Modern Medicine (New York, 1907).
APA citation. (1911). Joseph O'Dwyer. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11212d.htm
MLA citation. "Joseph O'Dwyer." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11212d.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Thomas J. Bress.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email address is feedback732 at newadvent.org. (To help fight spam, this address might change occasionally.) Regrettably, I can't reply to every letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback — especially notifications about typographical errors and inappropriate ads.