Saturday, February 9, 2013

It's February, Celebrate Black History Month!

We know what you're thinking... Black History Month?!  It's Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week, why are you talking about Black History Month?!  Well, the answer is simple - because of this brilliant man.

Vivien Theodore Thomas
(August 29, 1910 - November 26, 1985)

Vivien Thomas, the grandson of a slave, was an African-American surgical technician who developed the procedure we all know so well, the Blalock-Taussig Shunt or BT Shunt.  Assistant to cardiac surgeon, Alfred Blalock, Vivien performed experiemental surgeries in the animal labratory at Vanderbilt University and Johns Hopkins University. 

Thomas created Tetrology of Fallot in canines and then worked at correcting the condition by a pulmonary-to-subclavian anastomosis.  The first dog to survive long-term was Anna - whose portrait was hung on the walls of Johns Hopkins.  During Dr. Blalock's first BT shunt palliation, on an infant patient, Vivien Thomas stood on a step stool behind Dr. Blalock walking him through each step of the surgery.

With only a high school education, Vivien Thomas suffered through poverty and racism to become a cardiac surgery pioneer and ultimately a teacher of cardiac operative techinque. 

In addition to the BT Shunt, Vivien pioneered surgical techniques improving circulation in patients with Transposition of the Great Arteries and the atrial septectomy (also performed for HLHS infants).  Vivien's atrial septectomy was so flawless, Dr. Blalock exclaimed in the OR, "Vivien, this looks like something the Lord made."

If you haven't seen the HBO film, Something the Lord Made, we highly recommend it for Heart Awareness Month (or anytime really)!  Enter to win a copy of it here!

Vivien Thomas was the first African American without a doctorate to perform open heart surgery on a white patient in the United States.  We could go on and on about the life of Vivien Thomas; we owe so much to this man and his contribution to the advancement in HLHS palliative care. 

If you want to read more about Vivien Thomas, you might want to grab his autobiography, which he began writing just a few years before he lost his battle with pancreatic cancer.  In fact, Partners of the Heart was published two days after his passing.

In honor of Black History Month and CHD Awareness Week, THANK YOU VIVIEN THOMAS for your courage, bravery and brilliant mind!