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Alfred Blalock

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Alfred Blalock
(April 5, 1899 - September 15, 1964)
Born in the United States
Year of Discovery: 1944
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He Gave Infants the Breath of Life



A lifesaving discovery that was one of the first heart surgeries  is  enough reason to salute heart surgeon, Alfred Blalock.  However, at a time when racial segregation was reality, his relationship with Vivien Thomas was also remarkable.   Blalock led his surgical team to develop the “blue baby” operation with African-American surgical technician, Vivien Thomas, beside him every step of the way.

 

A lifesaving discovery that was one of the first heart surgeries  is  enough reason to salute heart surgeon, Alfred Blalock.  However, at a time when racial segregation was reality, his relationship with Vivien Thomas was also remarkable.   Blalock led his surgical team to develop the “blue baby” operation with African-American surgical technician, Vivien Thomas, beside him every step of the way.

Blue Baby (tetralogy of Fallot) is when an infant has a bluish color because they are born with four different heart malformations.  These malformations prevent the baby’s blood from picking up oxygen from the lungs as it is pumped through the heart.  Since the blood was low in oxygen, all of the baby’s organs were low in oxygen and the baby would take on a bluish pallor.  The Blalock-Taussig procedure separated an existing artery and connected it to the pulmonary artery so that the blood could receive oxygen.   Before the blue baby operation, 25% of  babies born with this condition would die before their first birthday, and an additional 70% would die by their 10th birthday.

Alfred Blalock was born in Georgia in 1899 and received his medical degree from Johns Hopkins in 1922.  He went on to complete a surgical residency at Vanderbilt in 1928.  In 1930, he met Vivien Thomas, a black school janitor. At that time segregation existed and blacks were excluded from normal jobs.  Blalock recognized Thomas as an extremely talented and meticulous man, and quite unusual for the time, made him  his surgical technician (although his job description remained janitor). Thus started a remarkable collaboration  Thomas only had a high school education, but under Blalock’s direction, he learned the details of surgical equipment and procedures, and went on to design many of his own.  

In the 1930s Blalock and Thomas completed groundbreaking research in the causes and treatment of shock.  They demonstrated it was caused by volume blood loss leading to whole blood and plasma transfusions as a therapy.  Their discovery later saved thousands in World War II.  This discovery led Johns Hopkins to offer Blalock a position of surgery in 1941.  Blalock responded that he would not leave his current position at Vanderbilt unless a position were created for his colleague Thomas; they were a “package deal” as colleagues and good friends as well.

Once there, Blalock and Thomas researched the mechanisms associated with blue babies. They first applied their surgical treatments to dogs in their laboratory.  Collaboration with pediatric cardiologist Helen Taussig helped them translate their research into a working procedure for the tiniest patients.  The first human operation took place on November 29, 1944 on a  15 month old girl named Eileen.  Blalock would not begin the procedure until Thomas was there.  He used the delicate instruments Thomas developed, and Thomas stood behind him during the surgery, offering suggestions and encouragement throughout. The surgery was a dramatic success, with the little girl suddenly changing her color, when the oxygen flowed through her arteries  Word quickly spread about the success and soon mothers from all over the country were bringing their babies to Johns Hopkins.  This operation was the first open heart surgery and the university quickly became the center of the cardiac surgery universe.

Both Blalock and Thomas’ pictures hang in the Johns Hopkins Medical School.
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Introduction by April Ingram



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Table of Contents

Introduction
Links to More Information About the Scientist
Key Insight
Key Experiment or Research
Key Contributors
Quotes by the Scientist
Quotes About the Scientist
Anecdotes
Fun Trivia About The Science
The Science Behind the Discovery
Personal Information
Science Discovery Timeline
Recommended Books About the Science
Books by the Scientist
Books About the Scientist
Awards
Major Academic Papers
Curriculum Vitae
Links to Science and Related Information on the Subject
Sources

 








DVD

The DVD Something the Lord Made tells the story of Alfred Blalock and Vivien Thomas. Better than most docudramas, the movie presents a nuanced history of two great scientists in an age of rampant racism in America. It shows the effects of prejudice on Thomas, an intellectual whose personality tended more toward quiet and studious, than confrontational. The science is presented well, telling the story of the first open heart surgeries, performed to make blue babies whole.

Of 152 reviews on Amazon.com, 137 are five star. Highly Recommended.


Links to More About the Scientist & the Science

Vanderbilt Medical Center profile:
http://www.mc.vanderbilt.edu/biolib/hc/biopages/ablalock.html

PBS American Experience profile:
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/partners/legacy/l_colleagues_blalock.html

Wikipedia entry:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Blalock



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Key Insight




Key Experiments or Research




Key Contributors

The Team
Explore other scientists who furthered this lifesaving advance.

Lifesavers:
Blue Baby Syndrome


Vivien Thomas
His revolutionary technique saved babies with defective hearts.




Quotes by the Scientist




Quotes About the Scientist




Anecdotes



 

Fun Trivia About the Science




The Science Behind the Discovery



Personal Information




Scientific Discovery Timeline




Recommended Books About the Science




Books by the Scientist




Books About the Scientist

Blalock, Alfred. Alfred Blalock, 1899-1964. John Hopkins Press, 1966.



Awards




Major Academic Papers Written by the Scientist



Curriculum Vitae



Links to Information on the Science





Sources/References