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Vivien T. Thomas was born in Lake Providence, Louisiana on August 29, 1910. His family later moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where he was educated in the public schools. In 1929, after working as an orderly in a private infirmary to raise money for college, he enrolled as a premedical student at Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial College. The bank crash that year wiped out his life’s savings, forcing him to drop out of school. In 1930, he took a position at Vanderbilt University as a laboratory assistant with Alfred Blalock. Thomas’ abilities as a surgical assistant and research associate were of the highest quality, and when Blalock moved to Johns Hopkins in 1941 he asked Thomas to accompany him. Thomas joined Blalock’s surgical team and helped to develop the procedure used in the “blue baby” operation. He helped train many of the surgeons at Johns Hopkins in the delicate techniques necessary for heart and lung operations. Thomas was a member of the medical school faculty from 1976 until 1985 and was presented with the degree of Honorary Doctor of Laws by the Johns Hopkins University in 1976.

Scope and Content

The Vivien T. Thomas Collection primarily spans his final years at Johns Hopkins. It focuses on the writing and publication of Thomas’s book Pioneering Research in Surgical Shock and Cardiovascular Surgery: Vivien Thomas and His Work with Alfred Blalock (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985). The collection contains manuscript copies and correspondence, which include lengthy exchanges between Thomas and Mark M. Ravitch, M.D., who encouraged and assisted Thomas with the production and publication of the book. Also included are a collection of reprints of articles by colleagues as well as ones to which Thomas contributed. Material related to the Hunterian laboratory includes notebooks from some of dog experiments as well as correspondence and financial records related to the operation of the lab.

Catalog Record

Additional Links

Web exhibit on the “blue baby” operation

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