Nov. 29 will mark 69 years since Dr. Alfred Blalock, Dr. Helen Taussig and surgical research technician, Vivien Thomas, successfully discovered a heart procedure that would save the lives of countless cyanotic children for several decades.
In November 2002, my unborn baby boy, Isaac, was diagnosed with several congenital heart defects. My husband Mike and I were given only few options. The first option given to us was abortion, second was comfort care (meaning to let him die comfortably), and the last was to have him endure several heart surgeries over the next several years with an uncertain future.
My husband and I wanted Isaac to live, even though he would need to encounter several heart surgeries. Isaac was born in January 2003 and had his first open heart surgery within his first few days of life. The heart surgery was a success, and Isaac left the hospital after about three weeks.
Isaac’s first heart surgery was possible due to a medical team in 1944 that had the courage to try a procedure never performed before in the history of medicine, later to be called the Blalock-Taussig Shunt heart procedure. This procedure joins an artery from the heart to an artery leading to the lungs, increasing the oxygen in the blood.
I express my sincere gratitude for the medical team consisting of Blalock, Taussig and Thomas, for their courage and dedication to the task of developing a technique to save blue babies. The persistence of this medical team gave a priceless gift to so many children and the families who love them, including mine.
Without this life-saving procedure, our family would have had to watch Isaac pass away within his first week of life. Our family has been able to watch Isaac grow and develop over 10 years celebrating many milestones, as well as many others across the globe.
“Vivien Thomas, my superb technician, and I performed many experiments with this end in view,” writes Blalock.
Blalock, Taussig and Thomas worked for the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. Blalock and Thomas worked countless hours on dogs for several years trying to discover a way to save the cyanotic children that were dying.
“Our first attack on the problem was to try to form in an animal a ‘blue-baby syndrome’ in order that we could work out a procedure for correction,” writes Thomas.
Although Blalock and Taussig faced much opposition, they persisted. A few years later with the help of Taussig, the team operated on their first patient with success.
“I must say my enthusiasm for the idea completely disintegrated when I saw the frail cyanotic infant in the oxygen tent on the east ward of Harriet Lane 4. At that time Dr. Blalock spoke briefly with the parents and indicated again the serious nature of the operation. It seemed to me from the way he greeted them that they had discussed the operation prior to the child’s admission to the hospital….At the time of the first operation we lacked all of the modern vascular instruments and really had little but the Professor’s determination to carry us through the procedure. The child had extensive collateral vessels full of thick dark blood which I of course, had never seen before. The pulmonary artery was identified with some difficulty and was isolated back into the mediastinum. It was amazing to see the Professor gently but blindly insert a right angle clamp into the mediastinum and after dissecting over his index finger, pull out the innominate artery…Vivien Thomas stood in back of Dr. Blalock and offered a number of helpful suggestions in regard to the actual technique of the procedure,” writes William P. Longmire, resident surgeon, in 1965 as he recalled the event.
Blalock, Taussig and Thomas invented this life-saving procedure out of love, never seeking fame or fortune as their motivation. This world needs more people with courage and persistence to seek degrees in science and technology for the benefit of mankind.
I realize there are many more individuals to thank for their contribution to the many successful surgeries Isaac has endured, never forgetting the hand of God in all of this. Today I focus my gratitude towards this team, recognizing their teamwork and dedication to a noble cause.
More of the story of Blalock, Taussig and Thomas can be read in complete detail at www.medicalarchives.jhmi.edu
Or by watching the full length movie of Something the Lord Made on Youtube.com
For more about Isaac’s journey, go to www.laughingwarrior.blogspot.com.