Friday, May 6, 2016


Jim Murphy's fascinating new book tells the story the life saving technique that has saved thousands of lives.  Prior to 1944 people with heart defects were basically given a death sentence.  There was no such thing as open heart surgery, and most doctors believed it was deadly to even touch a beating heart.  Consequently, thousands of "blue babies" died every year. These children were born with heart defects that prevented their blood from getting enough oxygen.

Three people were instrumental in this medical breakthrough.  Dr. Alfred Blalock was already a famous surgeon because of his pioneering efforts in treating shock patients.  He would be the one to perform the first operation on a blue baby.

His lab assistant, an African American man named Vivien Thomas was instrumental in developing the procedure that would become so revolutionary, but he would have to overcome many personal and professional struggles to do so.

Dr. Helen Taussig spent her career studying heart defects in babies and children and had a sense of urgency to find a solution.  She didn't want to watch any more children die.  She, like Vivien Thomas, had to deal with prejudice in a white male dominated profession.

This book gives background on each of the major players, sets the scene, and describes the drama of that first procedure and its aftermath.

Engaging and readable, this book is highly recommended!

Warning, this book does describe the animal testing that was necessary in developing the cure, but Murphy does a great job of contrasting the doctors' side with that of animal rights activists.

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