Black History Spotlight: Vivien Theodore Thomas

Who? Vivien Theodore Thomas

What? Developed procedures used to treat Blue Baby Syndrome, and laid stepping stones to solutions to many health issues, including; being one of the first to cross the line into heart surgery.

When? November 29, 1944


Courtesy of Medical Archives

To commemorate Black History month, the South Lancaster Academy Pioneer staff, each did a spotlight on African Americans that changed history, and got America to the place we are today. Instead of writing about the common African Americans like; Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., George Washington Carver, etc., we decided to write about not as common people that still made a huge impact.

Vivien Theodore Thomas was born in Louisiana, on August 29,1910. At a young age he attended Pearl High School in Nashville, Tennessee. For Thomas’ whole life he planned to become a doctor, but the Great Depression altered his plans, and he took a break from school. With the help from a friend Thomas was able to get a job as a surgical research technician at Vanderbilt University. Within the first few weeks he was leading out in surgeries on his own. Despite his rapid success in surgery and work as a postdoctoral researcher, Thomas was classified and paid as a janitor.

Later on in life Thomas married and had two daughters. The Great Depression then intensified which resulted in the closing of Nashville’s bank, and completely wiped out his savings. From the early start of his career, Thomas worked with Dr. Alfred Blalock. The Great Depression and the closing of the bank hit both of their families hard. Perhaps, out of grief or the ache of new knowledge, Blalock and Thomas started groundbreaking research into the causes of hemorrhagic and traumatic shock. Their studies later led to the solution of Crush syndrome, which saved the life of many soldiers at war. Crush syndrome is a condition that includes major shock and renal failure, after a serious  injury of the skeletal muscle. Crush syndrome causes muscle swelling and can lead to neurological disturbances.

Blalock and Thomas later dabbled into the experimental work in vascular and cardiac surgery, which defied many hospital’s superstition of operating on the heart. What Thomas was most known, and his most impressive work was his research and later cure for Blue baby syndrome. Blue baby syndrome is a complex and fatal heart anomaly that produces blueness in newborn infants. With this syndrome, blood was not properly able to get to the lungs, that results in oxygen deprivation and the blue color. Blue baby syndrome was popping up in infants everywhere, and without a surgical cure, many other infants would have a fatal fate. Using a technique Blalock and Thomas had discovered earlier on a different procedure, they were able to work their way up to finding a solution to the syndrome. At the time Thomas was not allowed to take on surgery’s by himself, he assisted Blalock by giving him step-by-step instructions on the first procedure performed on a human being.

On November 29, 1944, the procedure was tried on an eighteen-month-old infant, Eileen Saxon. Crossing the line into making history they completed the procedure. The first one was not a complete success, but resulted in Eileen to live several more months. Trying a second time, the first complete successful procedure was performed on an eleven-year-old girl, who the procedure saved her life. Word of the success of the surgeries spread rapidly, resulting in many lives saved, the recognition of Blalock and somewhat Thomas, and the place of the procedure, John Hopkins, received an enhanced status.

Thomas went on to being director of Surgical Research Laboratories for many years, wrote a couple of books, including an auto-biography, an honorary doctorate, and many other achievements. At the age of 75, Thomas passed away due to pancreatic cancer. Although Thomas was never able to finish college to become a doctor, he was able to live out the dreams God had for him. Despite racial tension, segregation, and other acts of hate many African Americans were able to take pride, and live their lives pushing through whatever life threw at them, with some of them being able to change history. During Black History Month we can remember that it doesn’t matter who we are, everyone can make a difference if we are headstrong and persistent. It doesn’t matter if you are African-American , White, Hispanic, Asian, or whatever the race you may be, we are all equal in God’s eyes, and in Matthew 19:26 of the bible is says, ” With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Remember that we all are special, and to make a difference it starts with taking the first step. Enhance the knowledge of the SLA Pioneer staff, by commenting below of other people not commonly know of that changed and made a difference in history.


Posted on February 26, 2013, in Spiritual Life, Top Stories and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: