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. For this part of the story, we have Thomas’s own voice on tape—deep, rich, and full of soft accents. that I had not been brought up to take or use that kind of language. In 1929, as he was preparing for college and medical school, Thomas lost his entire savings when a Nashville bank failed. In such small arteries, a fraction of a millimeter was critical, and the direction of the sutures determined whether the inside of the vessels would knit properly. So Thomas ordered his surgical supplies, cleaned and painted the lab, put on his white coat, and settled down to work. Vivien was 75 years old at the time of death. Wearing a back brace as the result of a disc operation, he could barely stand. So Vivien had learned the art of avoiding trouble. [33] Thomas' contribution remained unacknowledged, both by Blalock and by Hopkins. Thomas needed a job, he said, until he could enter college the next fall. Dr. Blalock.”. Using a canine model, he had found a way to improve circulation in patients whose great vessels were transposed. This time I could barely discern which piece I had put in. 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!”. 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. Alone in the lab, Thomas set about replicating the Blue Baby defect in dogs and answering two questions: Would the Vanderbilt procedure relieve cyanosis? After all, Thomas had done the procedure dozens of times; Blalock only once, as Vivien’s assistant. Three years after meeting Blalock, Thomas married Clara Flanders Thomas in 1933 and had two daughters.[16]. He recalled: “Had there been an organized complaint by the Negroes performing technical duties, there was a good chance that all kinds of excuses would have been offered to avoid giving us technicians’ pay and that leaders of the movement or action would have been summarily fired.”. Blalock took care of patients, Thomas took care of research. Vivien T. Thomas, who was born in New Iberia, La., and raised in Nashville, Tenn., had hoped one day to become a surgeon. He had spent all morning fixing a piece of worn flooring in one of the faculty houses. He died in November 26, 1985 of pancreatic cancer, at age 75, and the book was published just days later. 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. Watkins holds part of Thomas’s legacy in his hand as he speaks, a metal box called an Automatic Implantable Defibrillator. He was concerned with my being too political and antagonizing the people I had to work with. [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. [25] Among the dogs on whom Thomas operated was one named Anna, who became the first long-term survivor of the operation and the only animal to have her portrait hung on the walls of Johns Hopkins. Mrs. Thomas stated that in 1947, Thomas had investigated the possibility of enrolling in college and pursuing his dream of becoming a doctor, but had been deterred by the inflexibility of Morgan State University, which refused to grant him credit for life experience and insisted that he fulfill the standard freshman requirements. Doc­tor 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 (now known as cyan­otic heart dis­ease) in the 1940s. It was the surgeon whom Clara Thomas and her daughters asked to speak at Vivien’s funeral. Even if you’d never seen surgery before, Cooley says, you could do it because Vivien made it look so simple. He translated Blalock’s concepts into reality, devising techniques, even entire operations, where none had existed. In that same year, Thomas enrolled in the Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial College, currently known as Tennessee State University, as a premedical student.[10]. Blalock and Thomas knew the social codes and traditions of the Old South. Blalock told Thomas, “Let’s face it, Vivien, we’re getting older. Vivien Thomas surprised Johns Hopkins. And they brought five dogs, whose rebuilt hearts held the answer to a question no one yet had asked. Vivien was a trailblazer by his work.”. If he were drafted, it would be to his advantage to be at Hopkins, Thomas decided, because he would probably be placed with a medical unit. Outside loomed the Depression. Hanlon, the surgeon and scholar, spoke of Thomas’s hands, and of the man who was greater still; of the synergy of two great men, Thomas and Blalock. No one else had compiled such a mass of data on hemorrhagic and traumatic shock. Education:Attended Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State College. ‘‘You all have got me working on the operator’s side of the table this morning,” he told the standing-room-only audience. 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 the beginning of modern cardiac surgery, but to Thomas it looked like chaos. That was the beginning.”, A loudspeaker summons Cooley to surgery. On the one hand, he defended his choice of Thomas to his superiors at Vanderbilt and to Hopkins colleagues, and he insisted that Thomas accompany him in the operating room during the first series of tetralogy operations. Following his retirement in 1979, Thomas began work on an autobiography, Partners of the Heart: Vivien Thomas and his Work with Alfred Blalock, ISBN 0-8122-1634-2. “It’s the best I can do—it’s all I can do.”. . 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. There’s no point in my beating myself out with them around. . 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. “Internal healing of the incision was without flaw. “I want you to go with me to Baltimore,” Blalock told Thomas just before Christmas 1940. Through hundreds of experiments, Blalock wondered and Thomas found out, until in 1933 Blalock was ready to challenge the medical establishment with his first “named lecture.”. Those are the facts that Cooley has laid out, as swiftly and efficiently as he operates. When they came to Hopkins, they brought with them solutions to the problems of shock that would save many wounded soldiers in World War II. 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. With Alan Rickman, Yasiin Bey, Kyra Sedgwick, Gabrielle Union. “It was almost a miracle.”. For the Hopkins cardiac team headed by Drs. 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. Thomas had surprised The Professor with an operation he had conceived, then kept secret until healing was completed. As Blalock was laying plans for his 1947 “Blue Baby Tour” of Europe, Thomas was preparing to head back home to Nashville, for good. He served as supervisor of the surgical laboratories at Johns Hopkins for 35 years. This is about Vivien Thomas. ”He made no salary demands, but simply announced his intention to leave, assuming that Blalock would be powerless against the system. When Blalock exposed the pulmonary artery, then the subclavian—the two “pipes” he planned to reconnect— he turned to Thomas. Next, read about Robert Liston – the reckless surgeon who managed to kill his patient and also two bystanders. We revered him as we did our professor.”, To Blalock’s “boys,” Thomas became the model of a surgeon. [7] Thomas had hoped to attend college and become a doctor, but the Great Depression derailed his plans. Vivien Thomas portrait presentation. 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. 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. By this time, Blalock was dying of ureteral cancer. It was enough to make him want to head back to Nashville and take up his carpenter’s tools again. 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]. To the black technicians he trained—twenty of them over three decades—he was “Mr. put on the pay scale of a technician, which I was pretty sure was higher than janitor pay.”. “You’re the man in the picture,” he had said. 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. Yet Thomas was always the patient teacher. Thomas said it would. But more than science passed from man to man over fourteen years. He died on November 26, 1985 in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. . Enjoy this article about Vivien Thomas? [30] During the surgery itself, at Blalock's request, Thomas stood on a step stool at Blalock's shoulder and coached him step by step through the procedure. “I don’t know what will happen if I leave Hopkins, but I know what will happen if I stay. “Something went wrong,” Thomas later wrote in his autobiography. [27] Blalock was impressed with Thomas's work; when he inspected the procedure performed on Anna, he reportedly said, "This looks like something the Lord made. For days, he went over the specimens—tiny hearts so deformed they didn’t even look like hearts. [31] Thomas performed the operation hundreds of times on a dog, whereas Blalock only once as Thomas' assistant. After a day of house-hunting in Baltimore, he thought he might have to. Thomas was also appointed to the faculty of Johns Hopkins Medical School as Instructor of Surgery. . 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. Finally, off came the bulldog clamps that had stopped the flow of blood during the operation. A dramatization of the relationship between heart surgery pioneers Alfred Blalock and Vivien Thomas. 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. No larger than a cigarette package, Watkins’s AID is deceptively simple-looking. Thomas, surprised that his portrait had been painted at all, said he was “astounded” by its placement. “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. Blalock was not wealthy, but he had an ally at Hopkins, world-renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Walter Dandy, who was known for his generosity. Find a Grave, database and images ( https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 28 December 2020 ), memorial page for Vivien Theodore Thomas (29 Aug 1910–25 Nov 1985), Find a Grave Memorial no. In infants born with this defect, blood is shunted past the lungs, thus creating oxygen deprivation and a blue pallor. Blalock surprised Eileen’s parents and his chief resident, Dr. William Longmire, with his bedside announcement: He was going to perform an operation to bring more blood to Eileen’s lungs. “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. Of course they have time, they say, these men who count time in seconds, who race against the clock. Several days later the foreman said to me, ‘Thomas, you could have fixed that floor right in the first place.’ I knew that I had already learned the lesson which I still remember and try to adhere to: Whatever you do, always do your best. At birth these babies became weak and “blue,” and sooner or later all died. In fall 2004, the Baltimore City Public School System opened the Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy. “Dr. Sidelined by deteriorating health, Blalock decided in the early 1950s that cardiac surgery was a young man’s field, so he turned over the development of the heart-lung machine to two of his superstars, Drs. . In 1930, Vivien Thomas was a nineteen-year-old carpenter’s apprentice with his sights set on Tennessee State College and then medical school. From inside a patient’s body, it monitors the heartbeat, shocking the heart back into normal rhythm each time it fibrillates. Vivien Thomas was 19, a carpenter's apprentice, when he took a temporary job as a lab assistant to Dr. Alfred Blalock. [18] Assisted by Thomas, he was able to provide incontrovertible proof of this theory, and in so doing, he gained wide recognition in the medical community by the mid-1930s. In their long talks in Thomas’s office, the young surgeon remembers that “he taught me to take the broad view, to try to understand Hopkins and its perspective on race. Thomas excelled. 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. 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. What Happens When a Housemate Gets Diagnosed With the Virus? But the 30-year-old surgeon who showed Thomas into his office was even then, Thomas said, “a man who knew exactly what he wanted.”. Thomas first would have to reproduce tetralogy of Fallot in the canine heart before the effectiveness of their “pipe-changing” could be tested. I was stung, but I replaced the piece of flooring. “It’s a chance I have to take,” he told Blalock. [32] The three cases formed the basis for the article that was published in the May 1945 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, giving credit to Blalock and Taussig for the procedure. Nothing in the laboratory had prepared either one for what they saw when Blalock opened Eileen’s chest. 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