Today in History – November 29, 1944 – doctors at Johns Hopkins performed the surgery that laid the foundation for today’s heart surgery, such as coronary bypass surgery. Working as a team, the Johns Hopkins Hospital’s chief surgeon, Dr. Alfred Blalock (left photo), African American surgical technician Vivien T. Thomas (center portrait), and pediatric cardiologist Dr. Helen Taussig (right photo) developed a method for improving the flow of oxygen into the blood by connecting one of the heart’s major arteries with another feeding into the lungs. First used on a young girl with a combination of heart defects that so starved her for oxygen that her skin was literally blue, it became known as the Blue Baby Operation.
All three members of the team continued to make huge contributions to medical research and practice. Alfred Blalock was elected to the National Academy of Science and received the Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur, the Passano Award, the Matas Award, and the Albert Lasker Medical Research Award.
Dr. Taussig becamame one of the most influential and pioneering women in medicine, being considered the founder of pediatric cardiology. She has received widespread recognition and honors for her contributions to cardiology, including the French Chevalier Legion d’Honneur, the Italian Feltrinelli Prize, the Peruvian Presidential Medal of Honor, and the United States of America Medal of Freedom.
Vivien Thomas’ achievements became widely recognized as well. He supervised the surgical laboratories at Hopkins for over 35 years, and in 1976 he was appointed instructor in surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. In 1976, he was awarded the honorary degree Doctor of Laws, by the Johns Hopkins University.
For more information, see the Engineering Pathway’s resources on biomedical engineering or go to the Biomedical Engineering and Bioengineering Education community site. Readers may also be interested in our resources on gender equity and African American Engineers and Scientists.
Also on this date in history in 1877, Thomas Edison demonstrates hand-cranked phonograph. See the November 21 blog on Edison’s announcement of his “taking machine” and the contrast with the release of “Toy Story”, the first full-length movie created entirely by computer animation. Or browse the Engineering Pathway‘s resources on Edison and digital music.