In 1944 a groundbreaking operation repaired the congenital heart defect known as blue baby syndrome. The operation's success brought the surgeon Alfred Blalock international fame and paved the way for open-heart surgery. But the technique had been painstakingly developed by Vivien Thomas, Blalock's African American lab assistant, who stood behind Blalock in the operating room to give him step-by-step instructions.
The stories of this medical and social breakthrough and the lives of Thomas, Blalock, and their colleague Dr. Helen Taussig are intertwined in this compelling nonfiction narrative.
Murphy (Invincible Microbe) vividly details the contributions of three major participants in the first heart operation on a child with congenital heart defects resulting in oxygen-poor blood, known as a "blue baby." With exemplary clarity, Murphy recounts the many formidable challenges of the 1944 operation: the heart was considered sacrosanct, the surgical procedure had never been performed on a human, the patient was a desperately tiny 18-month-old, the medical equipment was handmade, and postoperative care was primitive. Murphy's nuanced portrayal of each member of the unusual triumvirate Dr. Alfred Blalock, a Southerner who achieved worldwide fame as a cardiac surgeon; the child's female pediatrician, Dr. Helen Taussig; and Vivien Thomas, an African-American research assistant whom "most people at the hospital thought... was a janitor" ensures readers understand the historical and cultural context, including the male-dominated medical world and prevailing racial attitudes. Murphy masterfully interweaves discussions of discrimination, the controversy over animal testing, and the background of each protagonist into the main narrative, building tension as he leads up to the surgery itself. Ages 10 12.