What's Your View?
What does Alfred Blalock and Vivien Thomas' story mean to you? Do you want to talk about racism, resilience, role models, or medical achievements? Would you like to react to the film? Share your opinions and experiences.
Share Your Views
Send in your own thoughts for us to post on the site.
This is a very disturbing story, especially the fact that Mr. Thomas had to tend bar to support his family. In the early sixties, I attended the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing and I had no idea segregation was so pervasive there.
How sad that a man as wonderful, intelligent and downright brilliant was never really commended for his part in history.
Long Beach, NY
It was one of the most moving programs I've ever watched. Mr. Thomas displayed a strength of perseverance and character that most of mankind couldn't comprehend! This is story that measures with the Martin Luther King story. It will pierce the hardest of hearts. Tremendous impact on all who watched.
Being the mother of a baby born with several congenital heart defects, I am grateful to God for these pioneers and their hard work. Without them, I may not have my son to love. He underwent open heart surgery at 3 1/2 months old, and I thank God every day for the Drs. who started repairing "blue babies" hearts, and for the many babies who lost their lives while trying to overcome CHD.
I am the mother of a ten year old son with a congenital heart defect. Your film was most interesting and so inspirational to me. I am always interested in reading of the history of pediatric cardiology and so thankful for these medical professionals. Also, I am most grateful to the parents and children who were brave enough to risk their children's lives. How scary it must have been! Giving your child over to have their chest cracked open and their tiny hearts worked on today is still the hardest thing to do, even with today's modern technology. I can't even imagine what these parents went through.
Vivien Thomas is truly an inspiration. It is such a shame that his genius has been relatively unknown. During the dark time in our history of racism and segregation, it is encouraging to learn of doctors like Dr. Blalock who saw through the race issue.
Thank you for making this film and bringing to light these daring doctors and families and also shedding some light on congenital heart defects. Congenital heart disease is the most frequently occurring birth defect and is the leading cause of birth-defect related deaths. Thanks to these doctors more and more children are leading active healthy lives. My son would probably not be here today if it were not for these pioneers.
I'd never heard of Vivien Thomas until the movie aired last night. It was a moving and inspiring story. He was a hero, a pioneer. The world needs to learn more about unsung heroes like Vivien Thomas. Most children of African descent are still being challenged by their white counterparts in every possible way. They are told that black people cannot be scientists or astronauts. Thank you PBS for airing this program. I hope this was an eye-opener for everyone watching.
As one who has been a patient of an excellent thoracic surgeon who graduated from the Johns Hopkins medical school, I found this film on Drs. Blalock, Taussig and Thomas very interesting; it is often those behind the scenes who contribute the most.
Oklahoma City, OK
I clicked into this program by accident and was overwhelmed because I was born a blue baby in Glasgow, Scotland in 1945 and my parents were told to take me home and be kind to me. Well I am still here at the ripe old age of 57 after two open heart procedures done in Glasgow. I felt very sad that Vivien Thomas never did get his full glory because of his race.
Catherine Scullion Kearny
What a truly inspiring story. How sad it was that Mr. Thomas could not pursue his dream of becoming a doctor. How wonderful it was that the doctors he worked with recognized his genius and ability and allowed him to use it. I could sense the tremendous respect his colleagues and students had for him.
I was amazed at the story -- I had a blue baby operation in 1950 at Presbyterian Children's Hospital in NY city by a Dr George Humphry (sp?). I was one of 8 kids born at West Point after WW2. Only 3 of us survived: a girl died later in kindergarten, the boy was a vegetable due to brain damage, and I was the only one to receive the operation from a civilian doctor. My doctor at the time was a Dr. Cotae (sp?) who was a pediatrician. I am now 55 yrs old and have done just about anything I wanted. I never had children, but I have survived (11 years) a mastectomy. I was very grateful to learn about these remarkable men and women and Anna the dog and the beagle pup that survived so that I could live. I guess that may explain why I have so many dogs! Thank you for giving me a sense of the sacrifices made so that I could live, by a truly gifted and courageous group of people.
As the mother of a blue baby whose first surgery was a modified Blalock-Taussig shunt, I am grateful for this film. The filmmakers and participants rightly honor Vivien Thomas. His family should know I hold him in my heart, with Drs. Blalock and Taussig, and so many others who have given my son a life.
Thanks for sharing this story - incredible and inspirational! As a nurse, I knew of Blalock and Taussig but never heard of Thomas! Seems his name should be at the BEGINNING of the procedure title, as he did most of the real work of developing, testing and designing the instruments used, as well as coaching Blalock thru the surgeries! Another unsung hero.
I plan to order the video for use in our middle school health classes.
Thanks again for sharing the story.
All I could think while watching this was "Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you..." My daughter was a "blue baby", her diagnosis, Tetralogy of Fallot. She had open heart surgery in October of 2002, at the ripe old age of 7 months. Had it not been for the pioneering Vivian Thomas, Alfred Blalock and others, my child might not have the wonderful opportunity of living a normal life. She'll be able to play soccer and dance and run and be a child. She'll grow up, go to college, get married and one day have children of her own, all because 2 men who couldn't have been more different, shared 1 common interest and goal. Words cannot express enough my admiration, respect and most of all gratitude to these two men. Thank you for airing a well-produced program, for touching on THE MOST COMMON birth defect in the US (congenital heart defects), and for exploring a still controversial topic, racism.
New York, NY
I had mixed emotions, I am very sensitive to racism. I get sick and tired of African descendents having to achieve in such hostile environments. Usually when I see all of the abuse that a person has to take, the story turns me off. This time I couldn't turn my mind off, I was very moved by this story. Vivian's perseverance and inner strength shined through so brightly that I am still moved to tears.
I attended Morgan State University in 1977 and I had no idea such a wonderful man attended. The part of the story that I loved the most is the fact that they finally had to give Vivian credit for his work while he was alive. This story will help me in all of my endeavors, even with task that appear simple such as raising children. Mr. Vivian Thomas' experience has sealed in my heart, if you know who you are in the inside and work diligently, you will prevail.
I am an African American Registered Nurse working in NICU in Fort Lauderdale. From time to time we have babies with Tet of Fallot. I am proud to know that one of my people had a critical role in a landmark surgery that saved so many lives. I am 31 and this is my first time hearing about Vivien Thomas. Which is rather surprising considering the importance of the groundbreaking surgery. I must thank PBS for continuing to enlighten every one on all types of American History.
Fort Lauderdale, FL
I was in awe with this documentary on this man and to know that his talents in the medical field will never be hidden again. I want to thank American Experience for sharing this with the world.
Eagle River, AK
The story of Thomas and Blalock touches on many levels. I am both a beneficiary of their work as a patient (I was born a blue baby myself) and as a colleague (now a pediatric cardiologist). Their story shows that no discovery is the work of a single person, but that all great things happen as a result of a team. Unfortunately, in many situations, only the lead person receives credit for the work until much too late. Cardiac surgery for congenital disease could not be where it is today without the work of the Vivien Thomases of the world. Without his work on the surgical procedure blue babies would not have survived. Without his expert teaching, many other surgeons would not have thrived and many other advances not made. He is arguably the most important figure in congenital heart surgery.
San Francisco, CA
My interest in this program was two-fold. I first learned about Partners in the Heart during my search for educational material for Black History Month. I wouldn't have missed it for anything. You see, my youngest daughter was a 'blue baby.' She had open heart surgery in 1997 at the age of 4 months to correct multiple heart defects.
The relationship of the men was a product of unfortunate social attitudes. Over sixty years later, we have come a long way, and still have a long road to travel. I am so glad he was recognized for his contributions, albeit late.
Genius and talent know no restriction of race or gender. Let each of us make a difference by being the first to recognize someone for the merit of their contribution.
I appreciate the opportunity to learn about Mr. Thomas and Dr. Blalock. This program will make a great addition to the school's video library.
I had the real honor of studying in Dr Thomas's laboratory in the early 70s. He was a wonderful teacher. Quiet, thoughtful and fun in the classroom.
I thoroughly enjoyed this program and found it true in almost all respects. I was a bit disappointed that two of the ramifications of Dr. Thomas's work were not noted.
Today there is an entire profession in the healthcare industry that is attributable to Dr. Thomas's work. It is that of the Physician Assistant. Over 10,000 PA's practice today. It was Dr. Thomas's example and the large numbers of experienced Vietnam corpsmen arriving back home that spawned our profession. It was in this role that I had the distinct honor of studying at his hand. All of us in our profession look at Dr. Thomas as the role model for our special place in the healthcare industry.
Also, today we enjoy a great miracle of Advanced Cardiac Life Support. We have fleets of paramedics trained in saving dying hearts. We have defibrillators in airports. The science of CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) was worked out in Vivian Thomas's dog labs. The defibrillator was a wire plugged into a light socket in his dog lab. I personally witnessed him demonstrating his original equipment. Your show failed to discuss this point and its huge effect on our entire nation.
Thanks also for interviewing the remaining members of Blalock's staff. Alan Woods, Jake "the Snake" Handelsman, Denton Cooley, Bill Gross, Alex Haller and others trained by them are really those who took Blalock and Thomas's work and evolved it into the miracle surgeries that go on hundreds of times every day in hospitals all over the country today. These men and women changed the history of American healthcare. Thanks so much for putting them in the limelight.
Thank you for such a wonderful program and for holding true to the spirit of a truly great man and the great institution that gave him the possibility to rise above circumstance and to achieve his fullest potential.
What a wonderful account of history and resilience of people of color. This small piece of history should be in all history books. I understand this country's history is checkered at best but I believe it can change if we start including ALL of this country's history in books. Today we only have one race's account of history and so it appears that people of color only served the elite class of people. All races have people they can be proud of through their wonderful accomplishments. This can inspire others that do not have luxury growing up to achieve in spite of visible circumstances. GOD BLESS AMERICA!
What a wonderful Web site and a wonderful, touching story about these talented men. My daughter received a Blalock-Taussig Shunt in 1994 -- when she was 5 days old -- for severe pulmonary stenosis. I am indebted to Doctors Blalock, Taussig and Vivian Thomas for their contribution to the field of pediatric cardiac surgery and in turn saving my daughter's life. I am thankful to PBS for sharing their story.
I just got done watching this with my son who is 11 years old and asked me why such a brilliant man had to sit in the back of a hotel. I tried to explain, but how do you really? I was completely touched by Vivian Thomas and all he has done. This has to be one of the most touching stories I have ever seen, and now my little boy understands a little more about such a wonderful man.
Jan M. Garcias
I was very moved by this movie. I was one of the many young kids that was affected by this surgery. I was a blue baby but not as bad as some of the ones in the movie. I am very thankful for the groundwork that he laid down in the field.
I had my surgery in 1983 for Tetralogy of Fallot. The hole was able to be patched in one open heart surgery session at Johns Hopkins.
College Park, MD
Thank God for people like Vivian Thomas whose visions transcend all boundaries of educational, economical and racial boundaries. As a result of Dr. Thomas' amazing contributions to humanity, coupled with the surgical prowess of Dr. Alfred Blalock and the wonderful Dr. Helen Taussig, my sister is alive today. Born a "blue baby" on Nov. 29, 1944, she was one of the pioneer patients of Johns Hopkins. While her "spells" were diminished following her surgery at age 4, she continued to suffer from lack of oxygen. At age 16, she underwent open-heart surgery at Johns Hopkins and, for the first time, was PINK. After watching tonight's tribute to Vivian Thomas and hearing the heart-wrenching dilemma that parents of blue babies endured, I believe, for the first time I truly appreciate what my parents had to endure.
Bel Air, MD
I am a member of the second generation of "blue babies"-- one of the children with a more complex heart defect that was saved by the advent of open heart surgery and the bypass (heart-lung) machine. The people who saved my life trained with Drs. Blalock, Taussig, Thomas, and their students. I owe my life, in no small part, to Vivien Thomas' resilience, and I have tried to give this immeasurable gift back in any way I can.
In my current career as a social worker, and my future goal to become an attorney, I am often reminded that I would not be at all if it were not for a hard-charging Southern surgeon, a hearing-impaired lady pediatrician who ignored conventional wisdom, and a courageous man who refused to be limited by his circumstances. I only hope that I can live up to their legacies.
My cheeks are still moist from the tears of joy I shed when they handed Vivian Thomas his degree. He became a "doctor" the moment he set out to be one. True scientists are born -- not made. Thank you American Experience and PBS for a wonderful story. Thank you Vivian Thomas for the hope you give to all who wish to overcome.
One thing I can only say is that I am so glad that you are showing this. I am one of the "Blue Babies." I was born with aorta and pulmonary artery turned around and the hole. I was nine when Dr. William S. Conklin did my surgery. I am now 53 and still going.
I am so proud that American Experience has chosen to honor the achievements of Blalock, Thomas and Taussig. My 5 year old son is alive today thanks to these brave pioneers. Our son has a condition called pulmonary artresia with intact ventricular septum. The BT Shunt procedure kept our son alive until he could have the two-part Fontan procedure. Today he is as healthy as his non-congenital heart defect friends. We are so thankful for the staff of the University of Michigan Mott's Children's Hospital and Dr. Edward Bove for all they have done for our son. Bless you PBS for honoring such a brave group of doctors.
One of the strongest memories of my childhood concerns the death of a neighbor, Terry Peters, who was a "blue baby." He lived until his teen-age years, but died right after an operation in 1960. Terry was older than me, but always stood out as different because he couldn't run or roller skate or play hide-and-seek like the rest of us kids growing up during the "wonder years" in suburban California. My big sister and Terry were very close, and they corresponded regularly while we visited "back east" that last summer. He was scheduled for an operation and died the day before we returned from New Jersey. He had survived previous surgeries, but his heart was probably too weak to make it through one more. He was 16 years old. Wow, it was quite a shock when a neighbor whispered in hushed tones to my mother what had happened to Terry, and my sister and I were left to deal with our first experience with knowing anyone who had died. And we weren't the only ones -- my sister recalls Terry's younger brother Brodie asking her whether it was okay to cry.
An especially poignant story concerns Terry's obvious self-consciousness with the label of "blue baby" and the hallmark tinge of his skin. In thinking back on it now, we probably wouldn't have noticed anything peculiar about his pigmentation at all if he had just been characterized to us as someone with a heart problem. However, since he was identified with a hue, that designation, and the conspicuous way it was used to describe him, brought him much anxiety. My sister relates that he was so excited when a new product hit the market, a lotion that proclaimed that it would guarantee a rich, beautiful tan from a bottle, and thus, would cover up the cause of his distress. Unhappily, the product didn't deliver on its claims and Terry was left to wash off the bottle's results, a garish orange tincture, as well as his dashed dreams of normal skin-coloring.
Your film shows one more time that art is universal. Moreover, there is more to universality here. My wife Helen worked in Moscow with a scientist, Demikhov, who was not a medical doctor. He had started to transplant organs on animals long before any operations on humans became a reality. He did not have any special education, but his hands were doing a supreme job. He did not believe that there is such thing as tissue rejection -- his hands worked miracles.
Christiaan Barnard (the first to do the heart transplant) came to him to study his techniques before attempting to operate on a human being. It is interesting that many inventors, who more often than not remain unknown to the general public, were so instrumental in putting many good things into practice.
It is fascinating how the world is a small place!
Was able to watch this film last night at the Black Film Festival in Atlanta. It was incredible. There are so many unsung heroes in this world.