Vivien Thomas Honored with Symposium, Keynote

Vivien Thomas played a key role in developing the Blalock-Taussig shunt to treat tetralogy of Fallot in the 1940s, but he was not publicly acknowledged for his efforts at the time.

This year’s Annual Meeting program includes a symposium and named lecture in honor of Vivien T. Thomas, a black surgical technician with only a high school education, who worked with Alfred Blalock, MD, and pioneered the anastomosis of the subclavian artery to the pulmonary artery, among other accomplishments.

Robert S.D. Higgins, MD, MSHA

Robert S.D. Higgins, MD, MSHA

“We’re proud to recognize a person of color who was not a physician, but who was responsible for training young surgeons to be great technicians,” said STS President Robert S.D. Higgins, MD, MSHA. “Vivien Thomas helped get our field off the ground in the 1940s, and his contributions went unrecognized for many years. We now have an opportunity to do so at a national forum.

History was made in November 1944 when Dr. Blalock and other legendary surgeons, William Longmire, Denton Cooley, and Helen Taussig, performed the first “blue baby” operation on a frail 18-month-old with tetralogy of Fallot. The pulmonary-to-subclavian anastomosis procedure had been designed and steadfastly tested by Thomas, and he stood behind Dr. Blalock on a stepstool guiding him through the procedure. 

Vivien T. Thomas Symposium: STS and ACC Diversity and Inclusion Efforts

12:45 p.m. – 1:45 p.m.
Room 217

Despite his efforts, Thomas initially was not given credit for the Blalock-Taussig shunt when the procedure was first described in The Journal of the American Medical Association. His contributions were much more widely recognized years later with a 1989 article, “Something the Lord Made,” and subsequent movie of the same name. 

In honor of Thomas and all of his contributions to medicine, including the many years he spent teaching residents in the training laboratories at Johns Hopkins, a Vivien T. Thomas Symposium will be held this morning to explore the importance of a diverse workforce, describe pipeline programs to support workforce diversity, and discuss available resources for promoting diversity and inclusion. 

Opening Session:
Vivien T. Thomas Lecture

3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Great Hall A

This afternoon, a Vivien T. Thomas Lecture will be given by Clyde W. Yancy, MD, vice dean for diversity and inclusion and chief of the Division of Cardiology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. He also is a past president of the American Heart Association.

Dr. Yancy’s talk, “The Saga of Vivien Thomas: Discrimination, Segregation, and Bias: It Could Happen Again,” will detail the destructive influence of implicit and explicit bias, identify solutions to overcome bias, and outline a path forward for improved health equity.