May 16, 2016
Medical success story
Breakthrough! How Three People Saved "Blue Babies" and Changed Medicine Forever
by Jim Murphy
Children born with "blue baby syndrome" were distinguished by the bluish skin tone of their lips, toes, and fingertips. They suffered from a serious heart condition resulting in a lack of oxygen in the bloodstream. Blue babies rarely lived past their tenth birthdays; twenty-five percent died before age one. In her search for a surgical cure for these ailing children, pediatric cardiologist Dr. Helen Taussig turned to surgeon Dr. Alfred Blalock. He, in turn, assigned the planning and research to his lab assistant Vivien Thomas.
The story of how these three people came to perform the first open-heart surgery makes for interesting and compelling reading, especially in the capable hands of author Murphy. His straight-forward narrative distills complicated medical terms into clear prose and, at the same time, infuses the text with an underlying tension that will keep readers riveted. Set in 1944, the story naturally encompasses issues of discrimination, segregation, sexism, and animal testing.
Above all, it is the story of Vivien Thomas, Dr. Blalock's assistant, who conceived the surgical procedure and aided Blalock during the operation. An African-American, Thomas was unable to enter medical school due to the Great Depression. His intelligence and potential were clearly recognized by Blalock even though Blalock was not a civil rights advocate. Thomas' contribution was immense, but it took nearly thirty years before he was properly recognized. His is an important, inspiring story that provides the book with its most memorable, uplifting moments.