A Lake Providence Success Story
Vivien Thomas was born in Lake Providence, Louisiana, on August 29, 1910. His family eventually moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where he graduated high school in 1929. His plans were to use his carpentry skills learned from his father to work his way through medical school. Times were against him and the depression that occurred in the 1920's and 30's forced Thomas to give up his dream of becoming a doctor. He took a job at Vanderbilt University Hospital as a lab assistant in 1930.
Thomas was quite proficient in his work and soon began working with Surgeon Alfred Blalock in the laboratory. Together, they discovered that "shock (during/after surgery) was linked to decreased blood volume and to fluid loss outside the vascular system." Their work led to increased use of blood and plasma treatment during World War II traumas. Thomas also developed experimental procedures, refined experiments, and test new lab protocols.
Thomas was so competent and essential to Dr. Blalock's research that he accompanied Blalock as he took a job at Johns Hopkins. It was at this hospital that Blalock and Thomas developed a treatment for "Blue Baby Syndrome." In a groundbreaking operation on November 29, 1944, Blalock, assisted by Thomas, performed the first surgery on an infant to bypass a cardiac defect that restricted blood flow to the baby's lungs. Vivien Thomas' contributions are depicted in the HBO film, "Something the Lord Made."
Thomas served as a research associate, supervisor of surgical lab, and an instructor in surgical procedure. He received an honorary degree in law from Johns Hopkins University in 1976. Vivien Thomas lived a full and successful life until his death in November 26, 1985.