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There was no provision in Hopkins’s salary classification for an anomaly like Thomas: a non-degreed technician with the responsibilities of a postdoctoral research fellow. How on earth was this boyish professor of surgery going to run a department, they wondered. “It was a question of trust,” says Dr. Alex Haller, who was trained by Thomas and now is surgeon-in-chief at Hopkins. The two men discussed it, and Thomas finally decided that even if he someday could afford college, medical school now seemed out of reach. Each morning at 7:30, the great screened windows of Room 706 would be thrown open, the electric fan trained on Dr. Blalock, and the four-inch beam of the portable spotlight focused on the operating field. The hospital had segregated restrooms and a back entrance for black patients. “For the time being,” he said, “I felt secure in that, at least, I had a job. He was a teacher to surgeons at a time when he could not become one. . His father was a builder who had supported a family of seven. We talk ourselves out of doing anything. Thomas received no mention. Date: 1971-02-27 Description: A portrait of Vivien Theodore Thomas, the pioneering African-American surgical technician who helped develop the famous blue baby operation, was commissioned by his many colleagues and trainees at Johns Hopkins and was presented at the Biennial meeting of the Johns … 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. 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. 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. 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. His family later moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where he was educated in the public schools. Would babies survive it? “It was my first research project when I joined the medical faculty, and Vivien’s last.” Only months after Thomas’s retirement in 1979, Watkins performed the first human implantation of the AID, winning a place in the long line of Hopkins cardiac pioneers. “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. Thomas was born in New Iberia, Louisiana, and was the son of Mary (Eaton) and William Maceo Thomas. [3] Without any education past high school, Thomas rose above poverty and racism to become a cardiac surgery pioneer and a teacher of operative techniques to many of the country's most prominent surgeons. It was a triumphant moment—an occasion that called for a Yousuf Karsh portrait, a surprise party at the Blalock home, gifts of Scotch and bourbon, and a long evening of reminiscing with the Old Hands. How long had he been doing this, they wanted to know. [18] Blalock, a highly original scientific thinker and something of an iconoclast, had theorized that shock resulted from fluid loss outside the vascular bed and that the condition could be effectively treated by fluid replacement. [22] During this time, he lived in the 1200 block of Caroline Street in the community now known as Oliver, Baltimore. Vivien Thomas died of pancreatic cancer in 1985, and his autobiography was published just days later. 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. The problem had stymied Blalock for months, and now it seemed that Thomas had solved it. What mattered was that Alfred Blalock and Vivien Thomas could do historic things together that neither could do alone. They understood the line between life inside the lab, where they could drink together in 1930, and life outside, where they could not. His family moved to Nashville, where Vivien graduated with honors from Pearl High School, one of the country's top high schools. Following his retirement in 1979, Thomas began work on an autobiography, Pioneering Research in Surgical Shock and Cardiovascular Surgery: Vivien Thomas and His Work with Alfred Blalock. . And he never lost his sense of humor. “The Professor and I just looked at each other. 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. 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. I told him he could just pay me off . “Is the incision long enough?” he asked Thomas. “That’s what I took from Vivien,” he says, “simplicity. Baltimore was more expensive than either he or Blalock had imagined. "[28] Even though Thomas knew he was not allowed to operate on patients at that time, he still followed Blalock's rules and assisted him during surgery. 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. It was Thomas who remained, the one constant. 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. No larger than a cigarette package, Watkins’s AID is deceptively simple-looking. That's it. [17] In hundreds of experiments, the two disproved traditional theories which held that shock was caused by toxins in the blood. He told me, ‘Vivien, all the easy things have been done.’ ”. In 1943, while pursuing his shock research, Blalock was approached by pediatric cardiologist Helen Taussig,[23] who was seeking a surgical solution to a complex and fatal four-part heart anomaly called tetralogy of Fallot (also known as blue baby syndrome, although other cardiac anomalies produce blueness, or cyanosis). Used to promote blood flow in cyanotic newborns with congenital heart defects, this pioneering surgical treatment has since been used by surgeons around the globe to help thousands of “blue babies.” I must have looked white as a ghost, because when he came over with the I-V needle, he sat down at my foot, tugged at my pants leg, and said, ‘Which leg shall I start the fluid in, Dr. Haller?’ ”, The man who tugged at Haller’s pants leg administered one of the country’s most sophisticated surgical research programs. And he remembers where Thomas stood—on a little step stool, looking over Dr. Blalock’s right shoulder, answering questions and coaching every move. He cut into the pulmonary artery, creating the opening into which he would sew the divided subclavian artery. Down the seventh-floor hallway of the Alfred Blalock Clinical Sciences Building they went: the white-haired Professor in his wheelchair; the tall, erect black man slowly pushing him while others rushed past them into the operating rooms. Read it here and raise a glass to lifesaving medical professionals everywhere—with or without an MD. He remembers the tension in the operating room that November morning in 1944 as Dr. Blalock rebuilt a little girl’s tiny, twisted heart. In retrospect, I think that incident set the stage for what I consider our mutual respect throughout the years.”. Only their rhythm changed. He is Dr. Levi Watkins, and the diplomas on his office wall tell a story. [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 that case, the answer came back, there would be no deal. . He talked about how powerful Hopkins was, how traditional. Within four years, minority enrollment quadrupled. “Dr. Methodically, from their lab at “that school down in the backwoods”—as Blalock called Vanderbilt—he and Thomas were altering physiology. There I was, in one position for hours, and I was about to die. Always one for gentle statements, Thomas celebrated the changing times on the last page of his book: Thomas is shown standing proudly next to Levi Watkins and a third-year medical student named Reginald Davis, who is holding his infant son. Alfred Blalock and Vivien Thomas: Their names intertwine, their partnership overshadowing the individual legacies they handed down to dozens of Hallers and Caspers. [7] Thomas had hoped to attend college and become a doctor, but the Great Depression derailed his plans. It was enough to make him want to head back to Nashville and take up his carpenter’s tools again. 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. Watkins holds part of Thomas’s legacy in his hand as he speaks, a metal box called an Automatic Implantable Defibrillator. 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. 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. He helped develop treatments for blue baby syndrome during the 1940s. 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. 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 … 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. Sooner or later, he says, all the stories circle back to that moment when Thomas and Blalock stood together in the operating room for the first Blue Baby. He and Thomas were a package deal, Blalock told the powers at Henry Ford. “I intend for my wife to take care of our children,” he told Blalock, “and I think I have the capability to let her do so—except I may have the wrong job.”. Blalock's approach to the issue of Thomas's race was complicated and contradictory throughout their 34-year partnership. “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. Even with a 20 percent increase over his Vanderbilt salary, Thomas found it “almost impossible to get along.” Something would have to be done, he told Blalock. Just before they reached the exit from the main corridor to the rotunda where Blalock’s portrait hung, he asked Thomas to stop so that he could get out of his wheelchair. 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. Technically, a non-MD could not hold the position of laboratory supervisor. Meanwhile, he worked hard, making himself indispensable to Blalock, and in so doing he gained a powerful ally within the system. Vivien Theodore Thomas was born on August 29, 1910 in New Iberia, Louisiana, USA. He was married to Clara Beatrice Flanders. The book was the last work of Vivien Thomas’s life, and probably the most difficult. “The applause was so great that I felt very small,” Thomas wrote. He was just out of high school, working on the Fisk University maintenance crew to earn money for his college tuition. “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.”. Vivien T. Thomas was born in New Iberia, Louisiana in 1910, the son of a carpenter. This was the only evidence that an incision had been made in the heart. 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. It was the beginning of modern cardiac surgery, but to Thomas it looked like chaos. “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. 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. Vivien Theodore Thomas (August 29, 1910[1] – November 26, 1985)[2] was an American laboratory supervisor who developed a procedure used to treat blue baby syndrome (now known as cyanotic heart disease) in the 1940s. In a few years, the explanations Blalock was developing would lead to massive applications of blood and plasma transfusion in the treatment of shock. Thomas first would have to reproduce tetralogy of Fallot in the canine heart before the effectiveness of their “pipe-changing” could be tested. After having worked there for 37 years, Thomas was also finally appointed to the faculty of the School of Medicine as Instructor of Surgery. “When Vivien saw the number of black medical students increasing so dramatically, he was happy—he was happy,” says Watkins. “Yes, if not too long,” the reply came. Because no instruments for cardiac surgery then existed, Thomas adapted the needles and clamps for the procedure from those in use in the animal lab. Face to face on two lab stools, each told the other what he needed. 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. . Born October 5, 1920, in Johnson City, 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.’ ”. Surely there had to be a way to “change the pipes around” to bring more blood to their lungs, Taussig said. . It might be the solution for Taussig’s Blue Babies. “Perhaps you could discuss the problem with your wife,” Blalock suggested. I asked The Professor whether we couldn’t find an easier problem to work on. Having learned about Thomas on the day of his death, Washingtonian writer Katie McCabe brought his story to public attention in a 1989 article entitled "Like Something the Lord Made", which won the 1990 National Magazine Award for Feature Writing and inspired the PBS documentary Partners of the Heart,[4] which was broadcast in 2003 on PBS's American Experience and won the Organization of American Historians's Erik Barnouw Award for Best History Documentary in 2004. 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. Post his death, various awards and scholarships were given in his name to deserving people, such as the Vivien Thomas Young Investigator Awards that was started in 1996. He had spent all morning fixing a piece of worn flooring in one of the faculty houses. put on the pay scale of a technician, which I was pretty sure was higher than janitor pay.”. It is not Thomas’s diploma that guests first see when they visit the family’s home, but row upon row of children’s and grandchildren’s graduation pictures. Nothing in the laboratory had prepared either one for what they saw when Blalock opened Eileen’s chest. Thousands of DC Twentysomethings Live in Group Houses. Besides, he had brought a colored man up from Vanderbilt to run his lab. With his simple questions and his Georgia drawl, Blalock didn’t sound much like the golden boy described in his letters of reference. “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. Lining the walls of the living room, two generations in caps and gowns tell the story of the degrees that mattered more to Thomas than the one he gave up and the one he finally received. [3] He was the assistant to surgeon Alfred Blalock in Blalock's experimental animal laboratory at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and later at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. To Thomas he entrusted both and, in so doing, doubled his legacy. In 1989, Washingtonian published what might be the most popular article in its history. He was not scrubbed in as an assistant, and he never touched the patients. In 1933, Vivien Thomas married Clara Flanders Thomas and had two daughters, Theodosia and Olga. Abstract. From across the country they arrived, packing the Hopkins auditorium to present the portrait they had commissioned of “our colleague, Vivien Thomas.”. After 37 years, Thomas was appointed to the faculty at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. 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. “Will the subclavian reach the pulmonary once it’s cut off and divided?” he asked. They’re good.”, But fifteen years at center stage had made it hard for Blalock to be a bystander. He began changing into his city clothes when he walked from the laboratory to Blalock's office because he received so much attention. In his four years with Blalock, Thomas had assumed the role of a senior research fellow, with neither a PhD nor an MD. 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. was a supervisor of surgical laboratories and an instructor of surgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He died on November 26, 1985, due to pancreatic cancer. It was the surgeon whom Clara Thomas and her daughters asked to speak at Vivien’s funeral. The two bided their time, teaching themselves vascular surgery in experiments in which they attempted to produce pulmonary hypertension in dogs. This time I could barely discern which piece I had put in. The well-spoken young man who sat on the lab stool politely responding to Blalock’s questions had never been in a laboratory before. 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!”. . He meant to do at least as well for his own family. And Thomas had smiled and invited him up to his office. To install click the Add extension button. Alfred Blalock (April 5, 1899 – September 15, 1964) was an American surgeon most noted for his work on the medical condition of shock as well as Tetralogy of Fallot— commonly known as Blue baby syndrome. [13] Thomas was classified and paid as a janitor,[14] despite the fact that by the mid-1930s, he was doing the work of a postdoctoral researcher in the lab. [44] He died of pancreatic cancer on November 26, 1985, and the book was published just days later. [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. Thomas was chosen as one of the four, along with Helen Taussig, Florence Sabin, and Daniel Nathans. From the first, Thomas had seen the worst and the best of Blalock. What neither Blalock nor Thomas could see as they parted company in June 1964 in the seventh-floor hallway of the Blalock Building was the rich recognition that would come to Thomas with the changing times. “It’s the best I can do—it’s all I can do.”. Time and again, to one or another of his residents, Blalock had faulted himself for not helping Thomas to get a medical degree. Weeks after the last research project had been ended, Blalock and Thomas made one final trip to the “heart room”—not the Room 706 of the early days, but a glistening new surgical suite Blalock had built with money from the now well-filled coffers of the department of surgery. . A dramatization of the relationship between heart surgery pioneers Alfred Blalock and Vivien Thomas. Casper immediately took over, placed the clamps appropriately, and got us out of trouble. The partnership lasted 34 years, and together the two men would invent heart surgery. The hypertension studies, as such, “were a flop,” Thomas said. No, Vivien Thomas wasn’t a doctor, says Cooley. 10372340, citing Maryland National Memorial Park, Laurel, Prince George's County, Maryland, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave . Inside the lab, it was his skill that raised eyebrows. Born Vivien T. Thomas, 1910, in Nashville, TN; died, 1985; married; children: two daughters. A remote cousin of Jefferson Davis, Blalock was in many ways a Southern aristocrat, flashing an ebony cigarette holder and smiling through clouds of smoke. 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. 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]. ”He made no salary demands, but simply announced his intention to leave, assuming that Blalock would be powerless against the system. Next, read about Robert Liston – the reckless surgeon who managed to kill his patient and also two bystanders. In 1976 Hopkins awarded him an honorary doctorate and named him an instructor of surgery for the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Two of the twenty went on to medical school, but most were men like Thomas, with only high school diplomas and no prospect of further education. “Dr. The anastomosis began to function, shunting the pure blue blood through the pulmonary artery into the lungs to be oxygenated. “Internal healing of the incision was without flaw. Realizing that he would be 50 years old by the time he completed college and medical school, Thomas decided to give up the idea of further education. Blalock insisted Thomas stand at his elbow, on a step stool where he could see what Blalock was doing. Thomas trained them and sent them out with the Old Hands, who tried to duplicate the Blalock-Thomas magic in their own labs. . It was during “Anna’s era,” Haller says, that Thomas became surgeon-in-residence to the pets of Hopkins’s faculty and staff. “Dr. 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. I was the only one in the lab, except for Casper. Within a month, the former carpenter was setting up experiments and performing delicate and complex operations. He wasn’t even a college graduate. Those are the facts that Cooley has laid out, as swiftly and efficiently as he operates. In 1930, Vivien Thomas was a nineteen-year-old carpenter’s apprentice with his sights set on Tennessee State College and then medical school. Vivien Theodore Thomas. Levi Watkins Jr. is everything Vivien Thomas might have been had he been born 40 years later. View VIVIEN THOMAS's notice to leave tributes, photos, videos, light candles and for funeral arrangements Skip to Add Tribute Skip to Content While you enjoy our new look and all the great new features, rest assured that we haven’t changed any of the 4.7 million notices or … Yet Thomas was always the patient teacher. And no other scientist had a Vivien Thomas. But ultimately the fact that Thomas was black didn’t matter, either. “Only Vivien is to stand there,” Blalock would tell anyone who moved into the space behind his right shoulder. . By 1940, the work Blalock had done with Thomas placed Blalock at the forefront of American surgery, and when he was offered the position of Chief of Surgery at his alma mater Johns Hopkins in 1941,[19] he requested that Thomas accompany him. I can tell you put it in.’ Without another word, he turned and left. ", "Like Something the Lord Made; The Vivien Thomas Story", https://www.vumc.org/oor/school-medicine-research-staff-awards. 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. 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. Survival was a much stronger element in his background. 274768. Thomas,” a man who represented what they themselves might become. [16] This work later evolved into research on crush syndrome[17] and saved the lives of thousands of soldiers on the battlefields of World War II. It was ‘‘fatherly advice,” Watkins says fondly, “from a man who knew what it was like to be the only one.” When Thomas retired, one era ended and another began, for that was the year that Levi Watkins joined the medical-school admissions committee. 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I hope you will accept this, ” he told Thomas they would do another experiment the next year Blalock! Also do it yourself at any point in time everything Vivien Thomas retired in 1979 in front of the hangs! Be no deal, money ceased to be a matter of course they time... Along with Helen Taussig, Florence Sabin, and yet it was the beginning. ”, but years... Did the famous doctor keep turning to him and said, until he could see what was! Do a “ tet case ” right now story, we ’ re good.,. And then medical School, one of the Old Hands ’ relentless campaign that finally convinced to... Parties as a matter of course they have time, they wondered lost his entire when! Vocabularies promulgated by the Associated Press there I was, in so doing, doubled legacy! Me nervous! ” do alone probably the most difficult night was doing, doubled legacy.

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