By Lisa Yount

This booklet examines the careers of Blalock, a white male medical professional; Taussig, a white lady heart specialist; and Thomas, an African American male laboratory technician; who in 1944 mixed their talents to create a groundbreaking surgery that not just kept the lives of millions of youngsters, but additionally made surgeons conscious that surgical procedure on dwelling hearts used to be attainable.

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Additional resources for Alfred Blalock, Helen Taussig, & Vivien Thomas: Mending Children's Hearts

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These children also have a hole in the wall (septum) separating their right and left ventricles (2) and an aorta placed further to the right than normal (3). Both of these defects allow oxygen-rich and oxygen-poor blood to mix, which they would not normally do, and mean that the aorta (and therefore the body) receives this mixture instead of the oxygen-rich blood it would normally carry. The right ventricle of the heart pumps harder than usual in an attempt to push blood into the narrowed pulmonary artery, so the ventricle wall thickens (4).

A human heart has four chambers—two upper chambers called atria and two lower ones called ventricles. A solid wall of muscle, the septum, separates the right and left pairs of chambers. The body’s largest blood vessels (the vena cava, the aorta, and the pulmonary arteries and veins) connect to the heart. bringing life-giving oxygen and carrying away carbon dioxide and other waste products. In tetralogy of Fallot, four things are wrong with this normal picture. The most important defect, Helen Taussig realized, is a severe narrowing, or stenosis, of the pulmonary artery, which keeps most of the child’s blood from reaching its lungs.

In arranging her postdoctoral training, Taussig encountered a disappointment much like Blalock’s. She, too, had hoped for an internship at Johns Hopkins Hospital, but only one such prize was earmarked for a woman, and it went to the single female classmate whose grades had outstripped hers. Like Blalock, however, she found a way to remain at Hopkins. She had continued her interest in the heart by working in the hospital’s heart clinic during medical school, and her supervisor there obtained a fellowship in cardiology for her.

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