Vivien Theodore Thomas was appointed instructor of surgery at John Hopkins School of Medicine. He is best known for his work in helping develop the “Blue Baby” operation.
Thomas was born in New Iberia, Louisiana in 1910, the son of a carpenter. His family moved to Nashville, Tennessee where he graduated with honors from Pearl High School.
While preparing to attend medical school in 1929, his savings were wiped out during the bank crash of 1930 which destroyed his lifelong dream. Due to the lack of funds, he dropped out of college and took a job sweeping floors at Vanderbilt University.
During his time at Vanderbilt, Thomas caught the eye of Dr. Alfred Blalock, he realized that he had great potential to obtain more in his life. Dr. Blacklock hired Thomas as a laboratory technician where he worked sixteen hours a day in the university’s medical school laboratory.
Dr. Blalock noticed that Vivien Thomas was a fast learner with, particularly skillful hands. He first worked with animals and began performing operations that would lead to Dr. Blalock’s studies of both high blood pressure and traumatic shock.
Thomas’ dedication to Blalock helped to develop the “Blue Baby” operation, most known as the Blalock-Taussig shunt. “Blue Baby is a congenital defect involving complications of the heart and causes blood to be diverted past the lungs, resulting in a lack of oxygen throughout the body. The bluish color is caused due to the oxygen deprivation (cyanosis).” Twenty-five percent of babies born with the condition before Thomas and Dr. Blacklock’s operation would have died before their first birthday and by the age of ten, 70 percent would die.
In his later years, Vivien Thomas supervised the surgical laboratories at John Hopkins almost 40 years and was appointed instructor in surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1976. Thomas retired in 1979.