Visitors had never seen anything like it. In any other hospital, Thomas’s functions as research consultant and surgical instruction might have been filled by as many as four specialists. “It’s the best I can do—it’s all I can do.”. ", "Like Something the Lord Made; The Vivien Thomas Story", https://www.vumc.org/oor/school-medicine-research-staff-awards. I feel as independent as I did in our earlier years, and I want you to be just as free in making your plans.”, “Thank you, Vivien,” Blalock said, then admitted he had no idea where he would go or what he would do after his retirement. [31] Thomas performed the operation hundreds of times on a dog, whereas Blalock only once as Thomas' assistant. The book was the last work of Vivien Thomas’s life, and probably the most difficult. Almost overnight, Operating Room 706 became “the heart room,” as dozens of Blue Babies and their parents came to Hopkins from all over the United States, then from abroad, spilling over into rooms on six floors of the hospital. “I no longer recall what, but I made some error. Heart presenting a tetralogy of Fallot. According to the accounts in Thomas's 1985 autobiography and in a 1967 interview with medical historian Peter Olch, Taussig suggested only that it might be possible to "reconnect the pipes"[24] in some way to increase the level of blood flow to the lungs but did not suggest how this could be accomplished. Had Blalock not believed in Thomas’s lab results with the tetralogy operation, he would never have dared to open Eileen Saxon’s chest. In the evenings, with Thomas’s notes at one elbow and a glass of bourbon at the other, Blalock would phone Thomas from his study as he worked on scientific papers late into the night. As the hectic pace of the late ’40s slowed in the early ’50s, the hurried noon visits and evening phone conversations gave way to long, relaxed exchanges through the open door between lab and office. After 37 years, Thomas was appointed to the faculty at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. But the young man who read chemistry and physiology textbooks by day and monitored experiments by night was doing more than surviving. Nobody knew how to do this.”. The story of Thomas’s unlikely and inspiring journey won a National Magazine Award for feature writing and became an Emmy Award–winning HBO movie starring Mos Def. It was Thomas who made the first move toward cutting the ties, but in the act of releasing Blalock from obligation he acknowledged how inextricably their fortunes were intertwined. And could he operate. Blalock's approach to the issue of Thomas's race was complicated and contradictory throughout their 34-year partnership. For the first time in 41 years, Thomas stood at center stage, feeling “quite humble,” he said, “but at the same time, just a little bit proud.” He rose to thank the distinguished gathering, his smiling presence contrasting with the serious, bespectacled Vivien Thomas in the portrait. His father was a builder who had supported a family of seven. Vivien Thomas died of pancreatic cancer in 1985, and his autobiography was published just days later. Thomas said it would. There I was, in one position for hours, and I was about to die. "Even if you'd never seen surgery before, you could do it because Vivien made it look so simple," the renowned surgeon Denton Cooley[29] told Washingtonian magazine in 1989. Together they devised an operation to save “Blue Babies”— infants born with a heart defect that sends blood past their lungs— and Cooley was there, as an intern, for the first one. Abstract. Enjoy this article about Vivien Thomas? Leaving an indelible mark, he became instructor emeritus of surgery. Neither one was to cross that line. Blalock, well into his groundbreaking work on shock—the first phase of the body’s reaction to trauma—needed “someone in the lab whom I can teach to do anything I can do, and maybe do things I can’t do.”. Suture silk for human arteries didn’t exist, so they made do with the silk Thomas had used in the lab—as well as the lab’s clamps, forceps, and right-angle nerve hook. Within four years, minority enrollment quadrupled. Next, read about Robert Liston – the reckless surgeon who managed to kill his patient and also two bystanders. Survival was a much stronger element in his background. “Nobody had fooled around with the heart before,” he says, “so we had no idea what trouble we might get into. Dr. Blalock always had someone on the surgical staff nominally in charge, but it was Vivien who actually ran the place.”. He was not scrubbed in as an assistant, and he never touched the patients. In 1929, after working as an orderly in a private infirmary to raise money for college, he enrolled as a premedical student at Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial College. “It was Vivien who helped me to work through the problems of testing this thing in the dog lab,” says Watkins, turning the little half-pound “heart shocker” in his hand and running his fingers along its two electrode wires. [26] He did demonstrate that the corrective procedure was not lethal, thus persuading Blalock that the operation could be safely attempted on a human patient. I was stung, but I replaced the piece of flooring. After all, Thomas had done the procedure dozens of times; Blalock only once, as Vivien’s assistant. His family later moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where he was educated in the public schools. There’s no point in my beating myself out with them around. . Thomas's more notable work involves aiding in the discovery of the cause of traumatic shock, designing and guiding the first operation to treat Tetralogy … Thomas received no mention. In that case, the answer came back, there would be no deal. Vivien was a trailblazer by his work.”. [43] The Journal of Surgical Case Reports announced in January 2010 that its annual prizes for the best case report written by a doctor and best case report written by a medical student would be named after Thomas. He and Thomas were a package deal, Blalock told the hospital. His years at Vanderbilt didn’t just give Blalock a chance to do research and grow as a scientist, though; the university also introduced him to Vivien Thomas. When the call came to return to his alma mater, Johns Hopkins, as surgeon-in-chief, he was able to make a deal on his own terms, and it included Thomas. In 1960 when Blalock celebrated his 60th birthday at Baltimore’s Southern Hotel, Thomas was not present. A Change of Heart: Vivien Thomas and the Blue Baby, The Unknown Black Heroes Who Saved Thousands of Lives, NHD Nationals 2016 -- Vivien Thomas and the Blue Babies, Something the Lord Made (The1st Heart Surgeon). But Blalock wanted Thomas there— not watching from the gallery or standing next to the chief resident, Dr. William Longmire, or the intern, Dr. Denton Cooley, or next to Dr. Taussig at the foot of the operating table. The Linked Data Service provides access to commonly found standards and vocabularies promulgated by the Library of Congress. Thomas knew the famous Blue Baby doctor the world could not see: a profoundly conscientious surgeon, devastated by patient mortality and keenly aware of his own limitations. For 34 years they were a remarkable combination: Blalock the scientist, asking the questions; Thomas the pragmatist, figuring out the simplest way to get the answers. At 5 PM, when everyone else was leaving, Thomas and “The Professor” prepared to work on into the night—Thomas setting up the treasured Van Slyke machine used to measure blood oxygen, Blalock starting the siphon on the ten-gallon charred keg of whiskey he kept hidden in the laboratory storeroom during Prohibition. Education:Attended Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State College. He would check on me from time to time, just to make sure everything was all right. Technically, a non-MD could not hold the position of laboratory supervisor. At birth these babies became weak and “blue,” and sooner or later all died. Overnight, the tetralogy operation moved from the lab to the operating room. Time and again, to one or another of his residents, Blalock had faulted himself for not helping Thomas to get a medical degree. The satisfaction of making a public racial statement was a luxury Thomas would not have for decades, and even then he would make his point quietly. Dr. Denton Cooley has just come out of surgery, and he has 47 minutes between operations. By this time, Blalock was dying of ureteral cancer. “It’s been almost 25 years,” he says, “since Mr. Thomas got a hold of me in the elevator of the Halsted Building and asked me if I might be interested in becoming a laboratory assistant.”, Along with surgical technique, Thomas imparted to his technicians his own philosophy. Blalock saw the same quality in Thomas, who exuded a no-nonsense attitude he had absorbed from his hard-working father. Vivien Theodore Thomas (August 29, 1910 – November 26, 1985) was an African-American laboratory supervisor who developed a procedure used to treat blue baby syndrome (now known as cyanotic heart disease) in the 1940s. How and where had he learned? . A colored man who wasn’t even a doctor. Today Bahnson is chairman emeritus of the department of surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and Spencer chairs the department of surgery at New York University. How Are Fitness Studios Dealing? Haller, I was very much impressed with the way you handled yourself there.’ Feeling overly proud of myself, I said to Casper, ‘Well, I trained with Dr. Blalock.’, “A few weeks later, we were operating together in the lab for a second time, and we got into even worse trouble. Thomas's surgical techniques included one he developed in 1946 for improving circulation in patients whose great vessels (the aorta and the pulmonary artery) were transposed. He had spent all morning fixing a piece of worn flooring in one of the faculty houses. “I don’t know what will happen if I leave Hopkins, but I know what will happen if I stay. Thomas, surprised that his portrait had been painted at all, said he was “astounded” by its placement. Wearing a back brace as the result of a disc operation, he could barely stand. Clara Thomas turns to the last page of the book, to a picture of Vivien standing with two young men, one a medical student, the other a cardiac surgeon. The source code for the WIKI 2 extension is being checked by specialists of the Mozilla Foundation, Google, and Apple. “You were lucky to have hit the jackpot twice,” Thomas answered, remembering that the good old days were, more often than not, sixteen-hour days. In that same year, Thomas enrolled in the Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial College, currently known as Tennessee State University, as a premedical student.[10]. In retrospect, I think that incident set the stage for what I consider our mutual respect throughout the years.”. In the wake of the stock market crash in October, Thomas put his educational plans on hold, and, through a friend, in February 1930 secured a job as surgical research assistant with Dr. Alfred Blalock at Vanderbilt University. Then, as Hopkins took halting steps toward desegregation, he made a new role for himself as mentor to the first generation of African American medical students, as well as hospital staff. Dr. Blalock finally broke the silence by asking, ‘Vivien, are you sure you did this?’ I answered in the affirmative, and then after a pause he said, ‘Well, this looks like something the Lord made.’ ”. Vincent Gott and Bruce Reitz, 1987 was a year of firsts, and Lee was part of both: In May, he assisted in a double heart-lung transplant, the first from a living donor; in August, he was a member of the Hopkins team that successfully separated Siamese twins. In a world where “men were walking the streets looking for jobs that didn’t exist,” Thomas watched his own college and medical-school plans evaporate. If neither Hopkins nor Thomas would bend, Blalock would have to find another way to solve the problem. Only their rhythm changed. Indoor Workout Classes Are Now Banned in DC. Recently, Vivien Thomas' fascinating story has been the inspiration for the PBS documentary, "Partners of The Heart" and the HBO film, "Something The Lord Made." But as a black man doing highly technical research, he had never really fit into the system—a reality that became painfully clear when in a salary discussion with a black coworker, Thomas discovered that Vanderbilt classified him as a janitor. [23] Having treated many such patients in her work in Hopkins's Harriet Lane Home, Taussig was desperate to find a surgical cure. No one else had been able to explain such a complex phenomenon so simply. The anastomosis began to function, shunting the pure blue blood through the pulmonary artery into the lungs to be oxygenated. And they brought five dogs, whose rebuilt hearts held the answer to a question no one yet had asked. [11] On his first day of work, Thomas assisted Blalock with a surgical experiment on a dog. The problem had stymied Blalock for months, and now it seemed that Thomas had solved it. He wasn’t even a college graduate. Thomas's legacy as an educator and scientist continued with the institution of the Vivien Thomas Young Investigator Awards, given by the Council on Cardiovascular Surgery and Anesthesiology beginning in 1996. “I want you to go with me to Baltimore,” Blalock told Thomas just before Christmas 1940. Due to racism and prejudice against his lack of academic background, the procedure was initially named the Blalock-Taussig shunt, and there was no mention of Thomas in academic papers. . This was the only evidence that an incision had been made in the heart. In 1968, the surgeons Thomas trained — who had then become chiefs of surgical departments throughout America — commissioned the painting of his portrait (by Bob Gee, oil on canvas, 1969, The Johns Hopkins Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives)[43] and arranged to have it hung next to Blalock's in the lobby of the Alfred Blalock Clinical Sciences Building. Always the family man, he was thinking practically. For Vivien they’ll make time. And lest Thomas look away, Blalock would plead over his shoulder, “Now you watch, Vivien, and don’t let me put these sutures in wrong!”. Yet despite his crucial role, Vivien Thomas was side-lined. “After all, he could have worked all those years and gotten nothing at all,” she says, looking at the Hopkins diploma hanging in a corner of his study. Thomas was also appointed to the faculty of Johns Hopkins Medical School as Instructor of Surgery. In 1933, Vivien Thomas married Clara Flanders Thomas and had two daughters, Theodosia and Olga. But it was the words of hospital president Dr. Russell Nelson that hit home: “There are all sorts of degrees and diplomas and certificates, but nothing equals recognition by your peers.”. Yet Thomas was always the patient teacher. But Thomas had not come the whole way. With his simple questions and his Georgia drawl, Blalock didn’t sound much like the golden boy described in his letters of reference. Out came Blalock, a Coke in one hand, cigarette in the other. As quietly as he had come through Hopkins’s door at Blalock’s side, Thomas began bringing in other black men, moving them into the role he had first carved out for himself. The procedure we were doing would ordinarily have taken an hour, but it had taken us six or seven hours, on this one dog that had been asleep all that time. Cheating Spouses, Secret Addictions and Identities—Marriages Are Buckling Under Covid Quarantine, 3 Captivating Longreads for a Corona-Free Weekend. From beginning to end, Thomas and Blalock maintained a delicate balance of closeness and distance. Journal of the American Medical Association, Organization of American Historians's Erik Barnouw Award, "The Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions", "This looks like something the Lord made. The two bided their time, teaching themselves vascular surgery in experiments in which they attempted to produce pulmonary hypertension in dogs. He served as supervisor of the surgical laboratories at Johns Hopkins for 35 years. In fall 2004, the Baltimore City Public School System opened the Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy. But it didn’t happen.” With each passing month, Thomas’s hopes dimmed, something not lost on Blalock. He talked about how powerful Hopkins was, how traditional. It was this work that laid the foundation for the revolutionary lifesaving surgery they were to perform at Johns Hopkins a decade later. Vivien T. Thomas was born in New Iberia, Louisiana in 1910, the son of a carpenter. With no regret for the past, the 35-year-old Thomas took a hard look at the future and at his two daughters’ prospects for earning the degrees that had eluded him. A dramatization of the relationship between heart surgery pioneers Alfred Blalock and Vivien Thomas. . He told me, ‘Vivien, all the easy things have been done.’ ”. Vivien Thomas died in 1985 at the age of 75, just a few days before the publication of his autobiography Partners of the Heart. It will enhance any encyclopedic page you visit with the magic of the WIKI 2 technology. “Like Something the Lord Made,” by Katie McCabe, tells of Vivien Thomas, an African American lab assistant to white surgeon Alfred Blalock from the 1930s to the ’60s. You could also do it yourself at any point in time. Blalock was not wealthy, but he had an ally at Hopkins, world-renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Walter Dandy, who was known for his generosity. 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