Would Lincoln Have Survived With Modern Medical Treatment?

14 Apr

Lincoln 1863

Lincoln’s assassination took place 150 years ago this evening. He died the next day, April 15, 1865. Since he lived overnight, could modern medicine techniques have saved him? Here is a question that appeared in my second Q&A book—FORENSICS AND FICTION

Would Abraham Lincoln Have Survived His Injuries Today?

Q: This is a pure curiosity question. Do you think that Lincoln could have been saved if they had today’s medical knowledge, techniques and equipment in 1864?

Martha Kuhn, Mt. Gilead, Ohio

A: Most likely, yes. He was shot in the back of his head, and the bullet apparently entered his brain. He lived for many hours so the shot was not immediately fatal. A surgeon probed the wound but feared removing the bullet, since it might cause bleeding. He probably should have, but we’ll never know.

Similar wounds today are treated by a trip to the OR, removal of the bullet, controlling bleeding, and preventing any subsequent infection. He would have had at least a 50 percent chance of survival. And since he survived several hours anyway his survival with modern techniques would likely have been much higher.



Posted by on April 14, 2015 in Medical History, Medical Issues, Trauma


3 responses to “Would Lincoln Have Survived With Modern Medical Treatment?

  1. Pat Marinelli

    April 14, 2015 at 9:31 am



  2. Brenda

    April 14, 2015 at 4:33 pm

    Thanks. You answer the questions before I get around to asking them!

    If the surgeon hadn’t probed it (with that potential for microbes), might he have survived it then? (I realize this may be a dumb question but was thinking of these cases where bullets stay in….)


    • D.P. Lyle, MD

      April 15, 2015 at 7:11 am

      Lincoln likely died from bleeding into and around his brain and the probing might have made this worse but he would probably have bleed and died anyway. Too bad the surgeon didn’t bite the bullet so to speak and remove it. And then cleaned the wound with sterilized water. Then he might have survived. Leaving it in place virtually guaranteed an infection if Lincoln had survived several days.



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