Dr. Levi Watkins Jr., a 1966 graduate of the Tennessee State University died Friday. He was 70.
Watkins revolutionized the medical world with the creation and implantation of the Automatic Implantable Defibrillator (AID). The device detects irregular heart rhythms and shocks the heart back to life.
"Dr. Levi Watkins changed the world with his passion for medicine," said TSU President Glenda Glover. "The University family extends sincerest condolences to the Watkins family during this difficult time. Dr. Watkins not only impacted the field of medicine, but he also inspired African-Americans to become doctors as he broke down the color barrier at two of the nation's leading medical institutions."
Dr. Watkins enrolled at Tennessee State in 1962, majoring in biology and graduating with honors. He was also elected student body president. In 1966, following graduation, he became the first African-American to be admitted to and to graduate from Vanderbilt's School of Medicine.
Dr. Watkins went onto become the first black chief resident in cardiac surgery at the Johns Hopkins Hospital after medical school. Watkins fought for equal opportunities in education throughout his career, increasing minority enrollment at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine by 400 percent in four years.
In February 1980, Dr. Watkins performed the world's first human implantation of the automatic implantable defibrillator and would go on to develop several different techniques for the implantation of the device. Watkins also helped to develop the cardiac arrhythmia service at Johns Hopkins where various new open-heart techniques are now being performed to treat patients at risk of sudden cardiac death.
In 2013, Dr. Watkins retired from John Hopkins after four decades. He received theThurgood Marshall College Fund award for excellence in medicine in 2010.
NOTE: Dr. Watkins was the founder of the Robert N. Murrell Scholarship Fund