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Mon, 08.29.1910

Vivien Thomas, Surgical Researcher born

Vivien T. Thomas

Vivien Theodore Thomas was born on this date in 1910. He was a Black supervisor of Surgical Research Laboratories.

He was born in Lake Providence, LA, and graduated from Pearl High School in Nashville, TN, in 1929.  Thomas was planning to use his carpentry skills, learned from his father William Maceo Thomas, to work his way through Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State Normal School (now Tennessee State University).  He planned to prepare to enter medical school and become a physician.  The Stock Market Crash of 1929 ended his plans. In 1930, he accepted a full-time position as a laboratory assistant at Vanderbilt University Medical School.

At Vanderbilt, Thomas worked with the surgeon Alfred Blalock gathering evidence that "linked shock to decreases in blood volume and to fluid loss outside the vascular system." This research led to applications in blood and plasma treatment for traumas during World War II. Thomas was responsible for developing experimental procedures, refining experiments, and testing new protocols in the laboratory.

In 1941, Blalock accepted the chairmanship of the surgery department of The Johns Hopkins University and Thomas went with him.  At Johns Hopkins, the work on the "blue baby" syndrome was a significant achievement, and Thomas was present to offer technical advice during the procedure. The new procedure was able to save newborn infants from chronic circulatory failure.

Thomas served as a research associate, supervisor of the surgical laboratories, and an instructor in surgery at the school.  In 1976, Thomas was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree by The Johns Hopkins University 1976. He was instrumental in pioneering the anastomosis of the subclavian artery to the pulmonary artery.  The surgical work he performed with Alfred Blalock paved the way for the successful outcome of the Blalock-Taussig shunt.

Vivien T. Thomas died on November 26, 1985.

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