That First Operation

On November 29, 1944, Drs. Blalock and Taussig decided to proceed with the anastomosis, or joining, of the subclavian artery to the pulmonary artery in a cyanotic child.

Dr. Helen Taussig was convinced that the operation would help the patient,and despite the technical problems of operating on a very small and very ill child, Dr. Alfred Blalock's skill was equal to the task. Blalock worked with his surgical team and his invaluable assistant Vivien T. Thomas, who stood behind Blalock and offered a number of helpful suggestions in regard to the technique employed.

The tiny child who had been at such great risk survived the operation and slowly improved. Over the succeeding days she gradually became less blue. By the end of the second postoperative week it was clear she would recover.
(View a copy of Dr. Blalock's surgical record page one
, page two)
The child's mother later recalled,

When I saw Eileen for the first time, it was like a miracle...
I was beside myself with happiness.

Operations that Followed...

Dr. Blalock and his surgical team,
performing an early procedure.

By the third time the procedure was performed, the success of the operation had become dramatically apparent. Dr. Taussig described the third patient to receive the landmark operation "as an utterly miserable, small six-year old boy who was no longer able to walk." His skin was intensely blue, his lips deep purple. Just after the final stitches were tied and the clamps released, the anesthesiologist called out, "The boy's a lovely color now!" Dr. Taussig remembered the thrill of walking around to the head of the operating table to see those "lovely normal pink lips." She reported that after his recovery from the operation he was a happy, active child.

In 1945, the first scientific paper describing the original three operations appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association and had immediate worldwide impact.

The Journal of the American Medical Association
(128:189, May 19, 1945)

Copyright 1945 American Medical Association.

In the years that followed thousands of cyanotic children were helped by the operation. Doctors from all over the world traveled to The Johns Hopkins Hospital to learn from Dr. Taussig how to make the diagnosis and from Dr. Blalock how to perform the anastomosis.

The blue-baby operation brought fame to both
Alfred Blalock
and Helen Taussig.

Continue with Exhibit

The Operation
Surgeon - Alfred Blalock
Pediatric Cardiologist - Helen B. Taussig
Surgical Technician - Vivien T. Thomas

Frequently Asked Questions
Sources for this Exhibit


The Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions