Friday, February 5, 2010

Dr. Vivien Thomas's Blue Baby

Here is a movie you must see !

Something the Lord Made – NR – Released: 2005 – Dr. Alfred Blalock (Alan Rickman) hires an African-American carpenter, Vivian Thomas (Mos Def), to assist him around his medical offices. Vivian shows great ingenuity and becomes the forerunner in a partnership between Blalock and Thomas that lead to radical, life-saving medical innovations. All this occurs against a background of racism in which Thomas is unable to take credit for his own work due to his skin color and lack of a medical degree. An exciting film about the triumph of man over illness and oppression.
Something The Lord Made is a biopic about the black cardiac pioneer Vivien Thomas and his complex and volatile partnership with white surgeon Alfred Blalock, the world famous "Blue Baby doctor" who pioneered modern heart surgery. Based on the National Magazine Award-winning Washingtonian magazine article "Like Something the Lord Made" by Katie McCabe, the film was directed by Joseph Sargent, scripted by Peter Silverman and Robert Caswell, and produced by Robert Cort, David Madden and Eric Hetzel. Something the Lord Made stars Mos Def as Vivien Thomas, Alan Rickman as Alfred Blalock, and Mary Stuart Masterson as Helen Taussig.

Something the Lord Made tells the story of the extraordinary 34-year partnership which begins in Depression Era Nashville in 1930, when Blalock hires Thomas as an assistant in his Vanderbilt University lab, expecting him merely to perform janitorial work. But Thomas' remarkable manual dexterity and scientific acumen shatter Blalock's expectations, and Thomas rapidly becomes indispensable as a research partner to Blalock in his first daring forays into heart surgery. The film traces the groundbreaking work the two men undertake when they move in 1941 from Vanderbilt to Johns Hopkins, an institution where the only black employees are janitors and where Thomas must enter by the back door. Together, they boldly attack the devastating heart problem of Tetralogy of Fallot, also known as Blue Baby Syndrome, and in so doing they open the field of heart surgery. The film dramatizes their race to save dying Blue Babies against the background of a Jim Crow America, illuminating the nuanced and complex relationship the two sustain.

Thomas earns Blalock's unalloyed respect, with Blalock praising the results of Thomas' surgical skill as being "like something the Lord made", and insisting that Thomas coach him through the first Blue Baby surgery over the protests of Hopkins administrators. Yet outside the lab, they remain forever separated by the racial divide. Thomas attends Blalock's parties as a bartender, moonlighting for extra income, and when Blalock is honored for the Blue Baby work at a segregated Belvedere Hotel, Thomas is not among the invited guests. Instead, he watches the proceedings from behind a potted palm at the rear of the ballroom.

Critics have ascribed much of the film's power to its sensitive depiction of the disparity between their two worlds and the relative anonymity in which Thomas labored even as Blalock achieved international renown.

A man who in life avoided the limelight, Vivien Thomas remained for decades virtually unknown outside the circle of elite Hopkins surgeons he trained. Thomas' story was first brought to public attention by Washington writer Katie McCabe, who learned of his work with Alfred Blalock on the day of his death in a 1985 interview with a prominent Washington, DC surgeon who described Thomas as "an absolute legend." McCabe's 1989 Washingtonian magazine article on Thomas, "Like Something the Lord Made", generated widespread interest in the story and precipitated the making of a 2003 public television documentary on Thomas and Blalock, "Partners of the Heart."[1] A Washington, DC dentist, Dr. Irving Sorkin, discovered McCabe's article and brought it to Hollywood, where it was developed into the HBO film.
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1 comment:

Charles Scott, PA said...

I am heartened by the recent attention being "discovered" by many of us and his story, which invokes the realm of "the stuff dreams are made of." However, I am Charles Scott, PA; and having had a somewhat similar event shape my life, I can attest to what must certainly be the guidance of "The Great Hand."

It is not my intent to review the story of Dr. Vivien Thomas which has ample coverage elsewhere. I did want to share some views that are my own, from my life's experiences as a member of the "allied medical practice" community.

When I delved further into the Dr. Thomas story, I was greatly saddened that his honorary degree was not even of a medical nature. The biographical evidence is that he was awarded a Doctor of Laws, LL.D. while he was the Supervisor or Surgical Research Laboratories at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine finally retiring in 1979 to become Instructor Emeritus of Surgery.

About four or five years ago I communicated with a department head at Johns Hopkins to see if anything could be done to correct what I thought was an injustice to the man responsible for so much. I was persuaded that an effort was underway but that things in a university medical department, (as I know from experience, move slowly).

The entire scenario brought to mind my own profession's beginning, the Physician's Assistant which was an idea of Dr. Eugene A. Stead who founded the concept as a university at Duke University in 1967. Much can be learned about the difficulties and progress that has been made since that time.


My thought is, were not these first three graduates counterparts of Dr. Thomas? The difference is that Dr. Stead was able to engage the Duke University to embrace the program he fostered. It had been his belief that "distance education could replace the first two years of medical school." As you might surmise, there were many concerns by the medical establishment and what is said elsewhere to be "the politics" of medicine.

I suppose Dr. Thomas's obstacle to receiving what I believe would be more appropriate recognition are influenced by this, but this is only my position. It does not connect with any person I may have talked to in the past and of course, is not intended as a "forum entry" seeking to stir up any considerations relating to the. I also recognize that Dr. Thomas being an American of African Heritage (as I prefer to call it), and the idea being to place the fact of a person's "homestead," is that of an American first.

I keep hoping for some movement on the issue presented here. I am hoping that others having influence might pick up on this, and work toward Dr. Thomas's allegiance being only that of medicine. He certainly was a ground breaker in many ways. He should properly be esteemed and honored. Certainly I feel this way. Myself, I also feel "We must never forget this man."