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. “I hope you will accept this,” he told Thomas, drawing a file card from his pocket. More than Blalock’s whine, it was Thomas’s presence that mystified the distinguished surgeons who came from all over the world to witness the operation. To install click the Add extension button. On the other hand, there were limits to his tolerance, especially when it came to issues of pay, academic acknowledgment, and his social interaction outside of work. Vivien Thomas portrait presentation. Two days before Christmas 1946, Blalock came to Thomas in the empty lab with Hopkins’s final salary offer, negotiated by Blalock and approved by the board of trustees that morning. that for the type of work I was doing, I felt I should be . . Blue Babies arrived daily, yet Hopkins had no cardiac ward, no catheterization lab, no sophisticated apparatus for blood studies. The well-spoken young man who sat on the lab stool politely responding to Blalock’s questions had never been in a laboratory before. His family later moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where he was educated in the public schools. At the slightest movement of light or fan, Blalock would yell at top voice, at which point his orderly would readjust both. And then, in 47 minutes—just about the time it takes him to do a triple bypass—he tells you about the man who taught him that kind of speed. Inside the lab, it was his skill that raised eyebrows. Abstract. They brought expertise in vascular surgery that would change medicine. [30] Newsreels touted the event, greatly enhancing the status of Johns Hopkins and solidifying the reputation of Blalock, who had been regarded as a maverick up until that point by some in the Hopkins old guard. What passed from Thomas’s hands to the surgical residents who would come to be known as “the Old Hands” was vascular surgery in the making—much of it of Thomas’s making. A dramatization of the relationship between heart surgery pioneers Alfred Blalock and Vivien Thomas. Narrated by Morgan Freeman. 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. I turned to him at the end of it and said, ‘I certainly appreciated the way you solved that problem. . Vivien Theodore Thomas was born on August 29, 1910 in New Iberia, Louisiana, USA. “Vivien knew all the senior vets in Baltimore,” Haller explains, “and if they had a complicated surgical problem, they’d call on Vivien for advice, or simply ask him to operate on their animals.”, By the late 1940s, the Old Hunterian had become “Vivien’s domain,” says Haller. But in the medical world of the 1940s that chose and trained men like Denton Cooley, there wasn’t supposed to be a place for a black man, with or without a degree. It was the beginning of modern cardiac surgery, but to Thomas it looked like chaos. That’s tetralogy of Fallot, the congenital heart defect that causes Blue Baby Syndrome. It might be the solution for Taussig’s Blue Babies. 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. The profanity he used would have made the proverbial sailor proud of him. How and where had he learned? He and Thomas were a package deal, Blalock told the hospital. “Will the subclavian reach the pulmonary once it’s cut off and divided?” he asked. Yet Thomas was always the patient teacher. Vivien’s older brother, Harold, had been a school teacher in Nashville. “Those dogs were treated like human patients.”, One of the experimental animals, Anna, took on legendary status as the first long-term survivor of the Blue Baby operation, taking up permanent residence in the Old Hunterian as Thomas’s pet. [47], Vanderbilt University Medical Center created the Vivien A. Thomas Award for Excellence in Clinical Research – recognizing excellence in conducting clinical research.[48]. Eventually, after negotiations on his behalf by Blalock, he became the highest paid assistant at Johns Hopkins by 1946, and by far the highest paid African-American on the institution's rolls. We were operating together on one occasion, and we got into trouble with some massive bleeding in a pulmonary artery, which I was able to handle fairly well. It was Thomas who remained, the one constant. The hypertension studies, as such, “were a flop,” Thomas said. Next, read about Robert Liston – the reckless surgeon who managed to kill his patient and also two bystanders. But it didn’t happen.” With each passing month, Thomas’s hopes dimmed, something not lost on Blalock. Blalock and Thomas realized immediately that the answer lay in a procedure they had perfected for a different purpose in their Vanderbilt work, involving the anastomosis (joining) of the subclavian artery to the pulmonary artery, which had the effect of increasing blood flow to the lungs. The hospital had segregated restrooms and a back entrance for black patients. So was his policy on Vivien Thomas, Blalock politely replied. Vivien Thomas, who never earned a medical degree, died in Baltimore, Maryland at the age of 75. Vivien was a trailblazer by his work.”. All that was inside the laboratory. But more than science passed from man to man over fourteen years. But the true message lies in what the caption does not say: In 1941, the Broadway entrance was for whites only. After all, Thomas had done the procedure dozens of times; Blalock only once, as Vivien’s assistant. And they brought five dogs, whose rebuilt hearts held the answer to a question no one yet had asked. He died on … Weighing the Hopkins pay scale against the postwar building boom in Nashville, he decided to head south to build houses. Vivien was.”. 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. Up and down the halls of Hopkins, Koco Eaton turned heads—not because he was black, but because he was the nephew of Vivien Thomas. Thomas excelled. “I remember Vivien coming to me in my office,” says Watkins, “and telling me how much it meant to him to have all the doors open for Koco that had been closed to him.”. “The applause was so great that I felt very small,” Thomas wrote. 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. The anastomosis began to function, shunting the pure blue blood through the pulmonary artery into the lungs to be oxygenated. [1][5][6] The grandson of a slave, he attended Pearl High School in Nashville in the 1920s. As surgeon-in-chief there, he could run his own department, train his own men, expand his research. With his simple questions and his Georgia drawl, Blalock didn’t sound much like the golden boy described in his letters of reference. His prospects in the medical establishment of the 1940s were spelled out by the only woman among Blalock’s “boys,” Dr. Rowena Spencer, a pediatric surgeon who as a medical student worked closely with Thomas. [39] He sometimes resorted to working as a bartender, often at Blalock's parties. . And could he operate. It was during “Anna’s era,” Haller says, that Thomas became surgeon-in-residence to the pets of Hopkins’s faculty and staff. In 1960 when Blalock celebrated his 60th birthday at Baltimore’s Southern Hotel, Thomas was not present. Within four years, minority enrollment quadrupled. We revered him as we did our professor.”, To Blalock’s “boys,” Thomas became the model of a surgeon. Survival was a much stronger element in his background. 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." [21] Hopkins, like the rest of Baltimore, was rigidly segregated, and the only black employees at the institution were janitors. Only their rhythm changed. “Internal healing of the incision was without flaw. . Thomas first would have to reproduce tetralogy of Fallot in the canine heart before the effectiveness of their “pipe-changing” could be tested. “It’s a chance I have to take,” he told Blalock. He would check on me from time to time, just to make sure everything was all right. In the 60-year-old Thomas, the 26-year-old Watkins found a man with the ability to transcend the times and the circumspection to live within them. 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. In the hectic Blue Baby years, Blalock would leave his hospital responsibilities at the door of the Old Hunterian at noon and closet himself with Thomas for a five-minute research update. He apologized, saying he had lost his temper, that he would watch his language, and he asked me to go back to work.”, From that day on, said Thomas, “neither one of us ever hesitated to tell the other, in a straightforward, man-to-man manner, what he thought or how he felt. I asked The Professor whether we couldn’t find an easier problem to work on. His father was a builder who had supported a family of seven. . From the very beginning, there was this deeper bond between us: I knew that he had been where I had been, and I had been where he could not go.”, Both men were aware that their differences ran deep: Watkins, whose exposure to the early civil-rights movement as a parishioner of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. had taught him to be “out front and vocal about minority participation”; and Thomas, whose upbringing in Louisiana and Tennessee in the early years of the century had taught him the opposite. She could only take a few steps before beginning to breathe heavily. Vivien Thomas was 19, a carpenter's apprentice, when he took a temporary job as a lab assistant to Dr. Alfred Blalock. [12] At the end of Thomas's first day, Blalock told Thomas they would do another experiment the next morning. Perhaps Blalock was remembering what it had been like when he was 30 and Thomas 19, juggling a dozen research projects, working into the night, trying to “find out what happens.” By including Thomas in his own decline, Blalock was acknowledging something deeper than chronology: a common beginning. No one else had been able to explain such a complex phenomenon so simply. 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. “Mr. We have created a browser extension. His reply was, ‘No, don’t.’ I watched as with an almost 45-degree stoop and obviously in pain, he slowly disappeared through the exit.”. . Due to his lack of an official medical degree, he was never allowed to operate on a living patient.[3]. He had spent all morning fixing a piece of worn flooring in one of the faculty houses. At their black-topped workbench and eight animal operating tables, the two set out to disprove all the old explanations about shock, amassing evidence that connected it to a decrease in blood volume and fluid loss outside the vascular bed. The first and only one conceived entirely by Thomas, it was a complex but now common operation called an atrial septectomy. Blalock saw the same quality in Thomas, who exuded a no-nonsense attitude he had absorbed from his hard-working father. 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. Through a friend who worked at Vanderbilt University, Thomas learned of an opening as a laboratory assistant for a young doctor named Alfred Blalock—who was, in his friend’s words, “hell to get along with.” Thomas decided to take a chance, and on February 10, 1930, he walked into Blalock’s animal lab. “Seeing that he was unable to stand erect,” Thomas recalled later, “I asked if he wanted me to accompany him to the front of the hospital. A PBS documentary Partners of the Heart,[4] was broadcast in 2003 on PBS's American Experience. When several paydays later Thomas and his coworker received salary increases, neither knew whether he had been reclassified as a technician or just given more money because Blalock demanded it. Thomas was absent in official articles about the procedure, as well as in team pictures that included all of the doctors involved in the procedure.[41]. At birth these babies became weak and “blue,” and sooner or later all died. 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. “I don’t think I’ll go,” he had said to chemistry technician Clara Belle Puryear the previous afternoon. [29] The blue baby syndrome had made her lips and fingers turn blue, with the rest of her skin having a very faint blue tinge. . An African-American lab technician, Thomas played a key role in helping discover the cause of shock and would later become Blalock’s trusted adviser during surgeries due to his technical skills in the operating room. . 10372340, citing Maryland National Memorial Park, Laurel, Prince George's County, Maryland, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave . Within the lab, they functioned almost as a single mind, as Thomas’s deft hands turned Blalock’s ideas into elegant and detailed experiments. Within a year, the operation known as the Blalock-Thomas-Taussig shunt had been performed on more than 200 patients at Hopkins, with parents bringing their suffering children from thousands of miles away.[33]. Wearing a back brace as the result of a disc operation, he could barely stand. Vivien Thomas died of pancreatic cancer in 1985, and his autobiography was published just days later. Yet he was full of questions about the experiment in progress, eager to learn not just “what” but “why” and “how.” Instinctively, Blalock responded to that curiosity, describing his experiment as he showed Thomas around the lab. [32] Next, they operated upon a six-year-old boy, who dramatically regained his color at the end of the surgery. “I want you to go with me to Baltimore,” Blalock told Thomas just before Christmas 1940. From beginning to end, Thomas and Blalock maintained a delicate balance of closeness and distance. “Maybe she could get a job to help out.”, Thomas bristled. It will enhance any encyclopedic page you visit with the magic of the WIKI 2 technology. Vivien Thomas The first Blalock-Taussig shunt (BT shunt) was performed at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 1944. Enjoy this article about Vivien Thomas? “I don’t know how you feel about it,” he said as Blalock mulled over post-retirement offers from around the country, “but I’d just as soon you not include me in any of those plans. We examined the outside of the heart and found the suture line with most of the silk still intact. I can tell you put it in.’ Without another word, he turned and left. Born October 5, 1920, in Johnson City, Vivien Theodore Thomas (August 29, 1910 – November 26, 1985) was an African-American surgical technician who developed the procedures used to treat blue baby syndrome in the 1940s. Technically, a non-MD could not hold the position of laboratory supervisor. We knew we had the answer in the Vanderbilt work,” Thomas says, referring to the operation he and Blalock had worked out at Vanderbilt some six years earlier—the “failed” experiment in which they had divided a major artery and sewn it into the pulmonary artery that supplied the lungs. When Blalock and Thomas arrived in Baltimore in 1941, the questions on most people’s minds had nothing to do with cardiac surgery. Within a few weeks, Thomas was starting surgery on his own. From that moment, money ceased to be an issue. “Must I operate all alone? “I remember one time,” says Haller, “when I was a medical student, I was working on a research project with a senior surgical resident who was a very slow operator. He meant to do at least as well for his own family. In fall 2004, the Baltimore City Public School System opened the Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy. Finally, off came the bulldog clamps that had stopped the flow of blood during the operation. Levi Watkins Jr. is everything Vivien Thomas might have been had he been born 40 years later. Thomas, surprised that his portrait had been painted at all, said he was “astounded” by its placement. ‘‘You all have got me working on the operator’s side of the table this morning,” he told the standing-room-only audience. Vivien Thomas surprised Johns Hopkins. Dr. Denton Cooley has just come out of surgery, and he has 47 minutes between operations. Methodically, from their lab at “that school down in the backwoods”—as Blalock called Vanderbilt—he and Thomas were altering physiology. [24] Thomas was charged with the task of first creating a blue baby-like condition in a dog, and then correcting the condition by means of the pulmonary-to-subclavian anastomosis. Thomas said it would. . On Friday afternoons, Thomas opened the Old Hunterian to the pet owners of Baltimore and presided over an afternoon clinic, gaining as much prestige in the veterinary community as he enjoyed within the medical school. He cut into the pulmonary artery, creating the opening into which he would sew the divided subclavian artery. He wasn’t even a college graduate. As he was working out the final details in the dog lab, a frail, cyanotic baby named Eileen Saxon lay in an oxygen tent in the infant ward at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Besides, it was Blalock, 60 years old, recently widowed and in failing health, who was feeling old, not Thomas, then only 49. With the help of an NAACP lawyer named Thurgood Marshall, Harold Thomas had won his suit. In a few years, the explanations Blalock was developing would lead to massive applications of blood and plasma transfusion in the treatment of shock. It will enhance any encyclopedic page you visit with the magic of the WIKI 2 technology. He was careful but firm when he approached Blalock on the issue: “I told Dr. Blalock . Blalock could see Thomas had a talent for surgery and a keen intellect, but he was not to see the full measure of the man he’d hired until the day Thomas made his first mistake. Nobody knew how to do this.”. Vivien Thomas was born in Louisiana. Read it here and raise a glass to lifesaving medical professionals everywhere—with or without an MD. . Then, as they settled down to monitor all-night shock experiments, Blalock and Thomas would relax with a whiskey-and-Coke. In any other hospital, Thomas’s functions as research consultant and surgical instruction might have been filled by as many as four specialists. This time I could barely discern which piece I had put in. … From his spot at Blalock’s shoulder in the operating room, Thomas would race to the wards, where he would take arterial blood samples on the Blue Babies scheduled for surgery, hand off the samples to another technician in the hallway, return to the heart room for the next operation, head for the lab to begin the blood-oxygen studies, then go back to his spot in the OR. Today, in heavy gilt frames, those two men silently look at each other from opposite walls of the Blalock Building, just as one morning 40 years ago they stood in silence at Hopkins. When Alfred Blalock died in 1965 at age 65, Vivien Thomas fell into a depression and did not undertake a major research project for six years. For the 29-year-old Thomas and his family, it meant leaving the home they had built in Nashville for a strange city and an uncertain future. “It’s always just a few degrees warmer on the operator’s side than it is on his assistant’s when you get into the operating room!”, Thomas’s portrait was hung opposite The Professor’s in the lobby of the Blalock Building, almost 30 years from the day in 1941 that he and Blalock had come to Hopkins from Vanderbilt. In 1976 Hopkins awarded him an honorary doctorate and named him an instructor of surgery for the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He began writing just after his retirement in 1979, working through his illness with pancreatic cancer, indexing the book from his hospital bed following surgery, and putting it to rest, just before his death, with a 1985 copyright date. Surgeons like Cooley, along with Alex Haller,[36] Frank Spencer,[37] Rowena Spencer,[38] and others credited Thomas with teaching them the surgical technique that placed them at the forefront of medicine in the United States. What Happens When a Housemate Gets Diagnosed With the Virus? Always the family man, he was thinking practically. What mattered was that Alfred Blalock and Vivien Thomas could do historic things together that neither could do alone. In 1941 the only other black employees at the Johns Hopkins Hospital were janitors. “I no longer recall what, but I made some error. In her commentary on Thomas’s career, published this year in A Century of Black Surgeons, Spencer puts to rest the question that Blalock wrestled with decades earlier. He worried about my getting out there alone.”. Vivien Thomas and Denton Cooley both arrived at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1940— Cooley to begin work on his medical degree, Thomas to run the hospital’s surgical lab under Dr. Alfred Blalock. How Are Fitness Studios Dealing? 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. To the black technicians he trained—twenty of them over three decades—he was “Mr. Vivien Theodore Thomas (August 29, 1910 – November 26, 1985) was an African-American surgical technician who developed the procedures used to treat blue baby syndrome in the 1940s. For the Hopkins cardiac team headed by Drs. For more than three decades, the partnership endured, as Blalock ascended to fame, built up young men in his own image, then became a proud but reluctant bystander as they rose to dominate the field he had created. Tension with Blalock continued to build when he failed to recognize the contributions that Thomas had made in the world-famous blue baby procedure, which led to a rift in their relationship. Thomas was chosen as one of the four, along with Helen Taussig, Florence Sabin, and Daniel Nathans. “For the time being,” he said, “I felt secure in that, at least, I had a job. The two men discussed it, and Thomas finally decided that even if he someday could afford college, medical school now seemed out of reach. 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. Directed by Joseph Sargent. In the halls of the school hangs a replica of Thomas's portrait commissioned by his surgeon-trainees in 1969. At the end of the 1950s, he fumed as pilot projects fizzled and he and Thomas fell to philosophizing about problems instead of solving them. Vivien Thomas died in 1985 at the age of 75, just a few days before the publication of his autobiography Partners of the Heart. Each man got more than he bargained for. 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. Blalock’s scalpel moved swiftly to the point of no return. On his first walk from the lab to Blalock’s office in the hospital across campus, the Negro man in a lab coat halted traffic. [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. Almost overnight, Blalock’s shock theory became “more or less Gospel,” as Thomas put it. 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. Cooley’s right here. Thomas’s wife, Clara, still refers to her husband’s autobiography by Vivien’s title, Presentation of a Portrait: The Story of a Life, even though when it appeared in print two days after his death in 1985, it bore the more formal title of Pioneering Research in Surgical Shock and Cardiovascular Surgery: Vivien Thomas and His Work With Alfred Blalock. Alfred Blalock (April 5, 1899 – September 15, 1964) was a 20th-century American surgeon most noted for his research on the medical condition of shock as well as Tetralogy of Fallot— commonly known as Blue baby syndrome. “Vivien Theodore Thomas, Doctor of Laws,” it reads, a quiet reminder of the thunderous ovation Thomas received when he stood in his gold-and-sable academic robe on May 21, 1976, for the awarding of the degree. . 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. But they were one of the most productive flops in medical history. Her blood vessels weren’t even half the size of those in the experimental animals used to develop the procedure, and they were full of the thick, dark, “blue” blood characteristic of cyanotic children. “Damn it, Vivien,” he complained, “we must be getting old. In his four years with Blalock, Thomas had assumed the role of a senior research fellow, with neither a PhD nor an MD. “There was no doubt in anybody’s mind as to who was in charge. “When Vivien saw the number of black medical students increasing so dramatically, he was happy—he was happy,” says Watkins. 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