29 Aug 1910-26 Nov 1985
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.
1941-1979 - Johns Hopkins Hospital
1976-1985 - Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Scope and Content:
The Vivien T. Thomas Collection spans his entire career at Vanderbilt and Johns Hopkins. Constituting the bulk of the collection is the manuscript and its various drafts for the memoir which was eventually published by The University of Pennsylvania Press, titled Pioneering Research in Surgical Shock and Cardiovascular Surgery: Vivien Thomas and His Work with Alfred Blalock (1985), later republished as Partners of the Heart: Vivien Thomas and his work with Alfred Blalock (1998). Also included is a large volume of correspondence between Thomas and numerous Hopkins medical staff, predominantly on professional topics. The most prolific correspondent is Mark Ravitch, a doctor who became Thomas’ mentor and editor during his writing of the memoir. Additionally, the collection includes material related to the experimental animal surgery of Vanderbilt and Johns Hopkins, reprints of seminal medical articles, biographical material and ephemera Thomas collected over his lifetime related to the hospital and cardiac surgery.
Additional Information about the Collection
A Web-based exhibit on the "blue baby" operation contains further information about the development of the procedure and Thomas' role.