Local Surgeon Donates Precious Medical Artifacts

Pictured above is Civil War-era amputation and surgical kit. The piece was donated to YSU’s Rose Melnick Medical Museum, with several other artifacts, by local surgeon Rashid Abdu.
Pictured above is Civil War-era amputation and surgical kit. The piece was donated to YSU’s Rose Melnick Medical Museum, with several other artifacts, by local surgeon Rashid Abdu.

Youngstown State University’s Rose Melnick Medical Museum received a large donation of several medical artifacts courtesy of one local surgeon.

Dr. Rashid Abdu of Canfield worked as a surgeon at St. Elizabeth’s Health Center for over three decades and served as the director of Surgical Education at YSU for 23 years.

A native of Yemen, Abdu came to the United States when he was 9-years-old and attended school here. His remarkable story is chronicled in his autobiography, “Journey of a Yemeni Boy.”

However, what may be more remarkable is the vast collection of rare medical artifacts he obtained throughout his life and career.

“More than 30 years ago, my foster father, Alfred M. Palmer, M.D., of Falls Church Virginia, gave me his collection of surgical instruments, which he had inherited from an old Virginia doctor — more than 50 artifacts, some dating back to the 1700s,” Abdu said.

Some of the notable pieces of his collection are a Civil War-era surgical kit and physician’s kit dating back to the 1740s. Abdu said that the artifacts are all very interesting in their own way, and that it’s very hard for him to choose his favorite instrument.

“Each has a story to tell. The sharp pointed knife, required to cut muscles of a leg in seconds, the blood-letting instrument that gives an image of George Washington being bled to death by his ‘doctors,’ and, there is the tonsil guillotine, that removed the tonsils in seconds, but took hours to control the bleeding,” Abdu said.

Abdu said he knew radiologist Dr. John C. Melnick, the museum’s founder, for many years. After having been suggested to donate a portion of his unique collection to surgical museums in Chicago and Washington, D.C., he felt the Melnick Museum would be most appropriate home for them.

“I preferred to keep them in our community if it were at all possible. I called Cassie Nespor, curator of the Melnick Medical Museum, whom I had never met, but after I met her and got to know her and her depth of knowledge in this area, I knew this would be a perfect home for my collection,” Abdu said.

Melnick founded the medical museum, which he named after his mother Rose who inspired him to go into the medical field. He also went on to develop a Mill Creek Park Museum before he passed away in 2008.

“Dr. [John] Melnick was a collector of old and rare medical artifacts,” she said. “And what Dr, Abdu has denoted are now some of the oldest pieces we have here.”

Nespor said some of the artifacts such as pre-anesthesia surgical tools, blood-letting tools and primitive headache remedies are among the most distinctive pieces of the collection.

“There’s some trephines, which were used to drill holes in peoples’ heads to cure headaches. He also donated a really nice surgical kit from the 1800s that has three rows of tools in it, it’s the most complete amputation and surgical kit we have,” Nespor said.

The items Abdul has donated will soon be on display at the Melnick Medical Museum’s new permanent home, at the Bitonte College of Health and Human Services, located in Cushwa Hall.

“The items are currently in the archives of Maag Library, but they’ll be heading to the Melnick Museum very soon,” Nespor said.

Abdu said these artifacts are significantly important for onlookers to see how far the medical field has advanced over the last few centuries.

“It is important to medical and non-medical folks to look into the history of these instruments and get a sense of appreciation of what we have, and how much we have advanced in healthcare over the last 200 years,” Abdu said. “They did not know that infection was caused by bacteria, and sterile technique was unknown.”