Vivian Theodore Thomas – August 29th in African American HIstory

Vivien Theodore Thomas August 29, 1910 Vivian Theodore Thomas, surgical technician and animal surgeon, was born in New Iberia, Louisiana.

After graduating from high school, Thomas had hoped to go to college and become a doctor. However, the Great Depression derailed his plans. In 1930, he secured a job with Dr. Alfred Blalock at Vanderbilt University. Although doing the job of a Laboratory Assistant, Thomas was classified and paid as a janitor.

In 1941, Blalock accepted the position of Chief of Surgery at John Hopkins and requested that Thomas accompany him. On November 29, 1944, using the tools adapted by Thomas from the animal lab and with Thomas at his shoulder coaching him, Blalock performed the first surgery to relieve “blue baby syndrome”. The operation came to be known as the Blalock-Taussig shunt, and Thomas received no mention.

Over his 38 years at John Hopkins, Thomas trained many surgeons that went on to become chiefs of surgical departments around the country. Thomas died November 26, 1985 and his autobiography, “Partners of the Heart: Vivian Thomas and his Work with Alfred Blalock” was published that same year. In 2004, his story was told in the HBO film, “Something the Lord Made”.

2 Responses to Vivian Theodore Thomas – August 29th in African American HIstory

  1. Jeff Kowalski February 26, 2011 at 1:05 am #

    I just saw the HBO film. I did not know of Dr. Thomas’s life and achievements, but I was quite moved by the story. Having grown up during the civil rights era it brought back many memories of the time, both good (beginning to bridge the artificial, but all to real, barriers between black and white in our country) and bad (witnessing the many small and large examples of prejudice and bigotry). I was born in 1951 and have seen many changes for the better, but know that many more are still needed. I’m thankful that Dr. Thomas had the opportunity to have his contribution to medicine recognized with an honorary doctorate during his lifetime.

    • Chimsima Zuhri February 26, 2011 at 11:57 am #

      I appreciate your comment and can only image the things you have seen in your lifetime. The film you are referring to, Something The Lord Made, was every bit as amazing as I had expected. A truly great man.

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