The next time you hear the term blue baby (a congenital heart defect: tetralogy of Fallot) or if the word conjures up images of a small child that is actually blue.. …the lips and nails (cyanosis) can turn pale to dark if not enough oxygen is getting through the extremities due to poor circulation through the heart; here’s a medical cardiac history milestone to beat them all.
Dr. Helen Taussig, pediatric-cardiologist, coined the phrase blue baby ; endearingly calling her little patients with this tetralogy this, in desperate need for a corrective surgery, watching most of her young patients die in infancy and early childhood.
The first successful surgery to correct this congenital heart defect, tetralogy of Fallot, was in 1945. Dr. Thomas Blalock performed the surgery at John Hopkins Hospital. Blalock was a busy doctor and hired a man to help him, for not much pay.
A little known aspect of this important medical breakthrough was a black man named Vivien Thomas, from New Orleans, father of 2, who couldn’t afford to go to college, but would stand at Blalock’s side for many decades working in the medical field, performing, testing, researching. Thomas worked alongside Blalock with his experiments, dedicated to the art of healing…and received no recognition until 1976.
It was a medical breakthrough pediatric cardiac life-saving procedure, and a miracle some would say. Drs. Blalock and Taussig were lauded around the world for this pediatric-cardiac procedure. Parents brought their ailing children from around the world to the doctors for the surgery. Thomas worked part time as a bartender to support his family, all the while assisting the cardiac surgeries that were increasing.
Jim, the tyke in plaid pictured below, was one of the first babies to ever survive this congenital heart-condition and procedure. The Blalock-Thomas-Taussig Anastomosis for Tetralogy of Fallot was performed on him in late 1947 at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. He lived a successful, healthy life…and of course lived to see the PBS 2002 production on American Experience, Partners of the Heart. Following that, there was the 2004 Emmy Award film produced Something the Lord Made.
It’s not often someone you know is written in human history in such goodness.
Books abound on the doctors, the procedure, the history.
When Jim was hospitalized in 2011, doctors in Cincinnati would make special efforts to come down the halls of the cardiac unit to see this adult patient who had had a Blalock Anastomosis performed on him as a baby. The good young doctors had learned about it in medical school, but there’s been much advancement in this surgery that the procedure is no longer performed (too old-fashioned now, one doc told me).
There he was, smiling at the doctors as he’d done since a toddler, a modern-day miracle one more time.