(August 29, 1910 – November 26, 1985)

A clinical virtuoso whose natural talents propelled to loftier heights, Vivien Theodore Thomas’ achievements remind one of Michael Faraday, Srinivasa Ramanujan and Antonie van Leeuwenhoek: all of whom excelled without tertiary education. Familial poverty (exacerbated by the Stock Market Crash of 1929) dashed Thomas’ hopes of acquiring higher education. But while working as surgical laboratory assistant to Alfred Blalock, his aptitudes enabled him become a leading authority in cardiology: pioneering remedies for Methemoglobinemia and Cyanotic heart disease. These required operative novelties which even the most daring surgeons of that era dreaded. By the late 1930s, Thomas was so versed in surgery as to be tutoring top clinicians. And despite having coached Alfred Blalock and Helen Taussig in the complex techniques which their 1943/44 collaborations entailed, the USA’s color-bar hypocrisy denied him recognition. For example, the Blalock-Thomas-Taussig shunt which the trio jointly developed was referred to only as Blalock-Taussig shunt by several American institutions and publishers. Unperturbed, Vivien Thomas surmounted petty-racism and continued charting courses. From Nashville’s Vanderbilt University (where he first joined Blalock) to Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University (where they finally settled), consultancy requests flowed-in ceaselessly. Even Robert Gross, an ex-president of American Association for Thoracic Surgery, was among his numerous high-profile consulters (on remedial prospects of congenital heart ailments). Altogether, Thomas spent 45 years as Surgery Instructor and Surgical Laboratories Supervisor. Those years of excelling in postdoctoral-research-assignments compelled Johns Hopkins to award him honorary doctorate degree in 1976. Apart from accolades, several movies, documentaries and prose pieces were published about him.

8 Comments

  1. You make it seem so easy with your presentation, but it’s complex and very broad for me. Anyway I’ll try to get the hang of it.

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