Monday, February 7, 2011


Born in New Iberia, Louisiana, Vivien Thomas was an aspiring medical student when the stock market crash wiped out his education savings. The lack of funding forced him to drop out of college, and in the absence of other types of work during the difficult time, he took a job sweeping floors at Vanderbilt University. There, Dr. Alfred Blalock, took notice of him and hired him to work as a laboratory, and eventually, surgical assistant. Blalock was in charge of the surgical research laboratory, and was working to research and develop methhods of treating hemorrhagic and traumatic shock.

Thomas very rapidly learned to perform surgery and physiologic studies, and to carry out chemical determinations. He developed into a highly skilled technician capable of conducting complicated experimental cardiac operations and devising new surgical methdods completely unassisted. He remained Blalock's principal technician and laboratory chief for the rest of Blalock's career. When Blalock was offered a pretigious position at the then-segregated Johns Hopkins University in 1941, he accepted on the condition that Thomas accompany him.

In 1976, Thomas was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Johns Hopkins University and was made a member of the medical school faculty in recognition of his contributions to the practice of cardiovascular surgery and to the education of young surgeons. Today, his portrait hangs in the lobby of the Blalock Building on The Johns Hopkins Hospital campus.

Dr. Levi Watkin, of Johns Hopkins University, described Thomas as, "the most un-talked about, unappreciated, unknown giant in the African American community. What he helped facilitate impacted people all over the world." Recently, Vivien Thomas' story has been the inspiration for the PBS documentary, "Partners of The Heart" and the HBO film, "Something The Lord Made."

You can read more about Dr. Vivien Thomas here and here.

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