In 1944, Dr. Alfred Blalock joined pediatrician Dr. Helen Taussig and research assistant Vivien Thomas to develop the first surgical procedure to treat a severe heart defect called tetralogy of Fallot, or more commonly “blue baby syndrome.”
The success of this groundbreaking procedure ushered in the concept that hearts could be surgically repaired. Thomas, a brilliant, highly skillful African-American who was unable to afford college, did much of the work to design and perfect the procedure. Murphy provides background on all three of those involved but focuses on Thomas and Blalock, their unusual professional relationship in the context of an era of extreme racial prejudice, and the failure to credit Thomas with his achievements. Controversial animal experimentation was a major component of the research, a topic covered in some detail. Although the cardiac defect is simply explained, there are no diagrams to enhance understanding of it. The first attempt at the procedure resulted in immediate improvement in the dying baby’s condition. Oddly, however, the final result for her is revealed only in the detailed endnotes. While the surgical procedure soon became available as a treatment option, no information is provided on how surgically treated patients fared, long term—even though a full page focuses on the outcome for a canine subject.
Despite lacunae, a gripping look at a major medical breakthrough. (source notes, bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 10-16)