Heart Surgery Pioneer – Vivien Thomas (Johns Hopkins)

By Adam Pick on June 7, 2008

The story of Vivien Thomas is extraordinary.

In fact, as Robyn (my wife) and I watched the HBO special on his life, we both found ourselves in tears.

The television movie is called “Something The Lord Made” and it premiered in May, 2004.

During his lifetime, Vivien Thomas faced prejudice, bigotry, wage discrimination and humiliation in the process of changing cardiac surgery forever. That said, after the replacement of my diseased aortic valve and pulmonary valve, I am DEEPLY INDEBTED to this man and his innovative colleague Dr. Blalock.

Here is Vivien Thomas’ Biography On Wikipedia.

If you have any interest in learning about one of the pioneers of heart surgery, I highly encourage you to watch or rent this movie.

Keep on tickin!

Written by Adam Pick
- Patient & Website Founder

Adam Pick, Heart Valve Patient Advocate

Adam Pick is a heart valve patient and author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery. In 2006, Adam founded HeartValveSurgery.com to educate and empower patients. This award-winning website has helped over 10 million people fight heart valve disease. Adam has been featured by the American Heart Association and Medical News Today.

Adam Pick is a heart valve patient and author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery. In 2006, Adam founded HeartValveSurgery.com to educate and empower patients. This award-winning website has helped over 10 million people fight heart valve disease. Adam has been featured by the American Heart Association and Medical News Today.

Rhonda Wilson says on June 8th, 2008 at 3:24 pm

I loved this show and I saw it when it first came out. Now that I’ve been told I’ll need the surgery in a year or two, I’ll have to watch it again and see what new insight I’ll gain.

nancy mallinger says on June 8th, 2008 at 5:31 pm

Just wanted you to know that I had surgery performed by Dr. Blaylock in 1950 to repair a patent ductus. It was a new procedure and I was brought to Johns Hopkins by my parents, who had been told to “take her home to die” when I was born. And here I am, 57 years later! Unfortunately, now I need a valve replacement due to congenital aortic stenosis which has become critical. My father had told me about this movie, but I have not seen it yet. I’m looking forward to watching it.

Cyril Joseph Corpuz says on August 13th, 2008 at 6:13 am

I’m a medical student graduate here at the Philippines. I want to pursue on Congenital Heart Surgery because I was very interested in Congenital heart defects. I’ve always read on the corrective procedures and one of them was the “Blalock-Taussig shunt” which is one of the component of a 3-staged procedure known as the “Norwood Operation.” I watched “Something The Lord Made” and it really inspired me. It was a very good movie and I would want to give it a “Two Thumb’s Up.” Thanks to Dr. Blalock that Cardiac Surgery came to existence. I really liked what Dr. Blalock said to one of his colleagues, “When you see risk, I see opportunity.”

Wilmer Brown says on September 16th, 2008 at 5:34 pm

On 2 june 08 I had a Aortic Mechanical Valve Surgery. That was my 67th
Birthday. My wife ask me if i would do it all over again and I told her yes.
I am so thankful for John Hopkins Hospital. If any one has been told they need surgery don’t put it off.

george heit says on September 26th, 2008 at 2:11 pm

Great movie, and how people address injustice.

tiffanie thrbak says on April 13th, 2009 at 10:08 am

I just saw the movie today. I watched it with my 9 year old son. I had never heard of him before. Shows like this are so very important and valuable to the American and African American culture.

I had to google him right away. I found great information on “Dr” Vivien Thomas.


tiniko scott says on April 27th, 2009 at 11:04 pm

This is my second time watching this movie. I have never heard of Dr. Thomas before and I am black woman. This movie really touched me so the first time that I had to record it when I caught it on tv again. When Dr. Thomas was recognized I was in tears filled with joy. I was clapping and standing as if I was there. Great movie…I mean really it is one for all to see.
I too went to google to get more information on Dr. Thomas.

T.White says on October 29th, 2009 at 10:34 am

I was flipping through the channels right before going to bed and found this movie and decided to watch it. I had no Idea of the treasure that it would actually be. I enjoyed every minute of the movie. The only disturbing issue was that I had not heard of Dr. Vivien before. I am a socially conscious 40 year old man and It’s amazing that a true to life story such as this could escape me. I reflect on all of the stories of individuals that are told over and over and it is hard to believe that one of this magnitude has just made it to the big screen. Also, a little contradiction to my earlier statement, It disturbed me how Dr. Blalock could hold forum and disregard mention of Dr. Thomas. It also was a vivid look at how as human beings we can be so passionate about a thing that we exhibit incompassion for those who have contributed Significantly to the realization of that passion.

Karen says on December 4th, 2009 at 11:29 pm

Thank you for recognizing Dr. Thomas. I just watched this movie. Even as an African American who has witnessed and experienced so much of what was portratyed in the movie, all I can say is AMAZING. I am so glad that you have benefited from the groundbreaking work done by Dr. Thomas and Dr. Blalock. That fact that you felt compelled to recognize Dr. Thomas gives me hope and warms my heart. You have made my day, my month, my year! God Bless!

C John Hancock says on February 1st, 2010 at 12:15 am

I first saw this movie three months ago while checking movies to watch. I found the title interesting and began to watch. I have since, watched it three times and told many, many friends to be sure to watch “Something the Lord Made”. Not only will it educate you with the beginning of heart surgery from the 30’s, but allows you to see what segreagation was about. Dr Blaylock was head strong with his research for helping Blue Babies, he was just as convinced that there was so much more could be done to help other failures with the heart. We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to him and Vivien Thomas for their intense desire and dedication to make things better for all we have today.. Open your hearts and give thanks to these great Professionals and those who have followed. We are truly blessd to have them in our life times…… J. Hancock

Elite Stoney (xbox) says on February 9th, 2010 at 1:08 am

Excelent movie and story. Makes me look back and wish I would have became a doctor. I touch people’s lives in the field of work I do now, but to save it would be astounding. This movie is a homerun winner and should be watched by all. I’m not brown, but I couldn’t imagine living in a time where I was supposed to hate browns. I’ve always been against judging people via skin. Hence why I left Alabama. Hopefully the world is changing.

Molly Davies says on March 26th, 2010 at 2:58 pm

I have just watched the movie on TV3 South African TV tonight. How very moving it was to watch.
I was born with the heart defect mentioned in the movie Fallots of Tetralogy and was a ‘blue baby’. When I was two years old ( in 1954 ) and not expected to live much longer I was flown to England and a British pioneering heart surgeon called Professor ( later Lord ) Russel Brock operated on me at Guy’s Hospital London. Prof. Brock did the pulmonary ‘shunt’ on me, as described in the movie. lord Brock was trained in the USA by Dr Baylock and so if it were not for all these brilliant and brave Doctors I would not be alive today. My story is on the C.H.I. N. Website.

Molly Davies ( nee Dent) says on March 26th, 2010 at 3:06 pm

What a great movie that was.
To all the Medical students, fellow congential heart patients ( blue babies ) and others interested in the history of pioneering heart surgery – please contact me I would love to hear from you.

danielle scott says on March 29th, 2010 at 11:04 pm

I am 27 yrs old i was a blue baby. before the age 5 i went through 3 open heart surgeries for AV canal and Tetralogy of fallot. what an extrodanary story and i watched something the lord has made with my mother. it was every emotional to see a blue baby and see the reaction on my mothers face that she and my dad had to deal with me going through that. i recently obtained a copy of the movie and my husband was derrply moved. i believe that I owe my life to Dr, Blaylock and DR. VIVANNE THOMAS. now in my 20s i am having problems again and i now had a ICD (pacemaker ) installed and i am experiancing seizures now. im a healthy girl. i exersize and eat right as well. my friends all see me as a miracle and i wish that the story of the devolopment of the story or dr blaylock and thomas was shared with schools across the nation. it is a wonderful story of overcoming diversity segreation and also understanding that the impossible is possible. they saved alot of lives 🙂

Ani says on April 14th, 2010 at 10:09 pm

Just watched the movie “Something the Lord Made” it is a great movie. I to had the same heart defects, I had tinge of blue I was born in 1956 they had to wait till I was strong enough to have the surgery. They waited till I was 16 months old. Back than they said I did not have a great chance. My parents took me from Reno, Nevada to San Francisco to Moffiat Childrens Hospital.

Everything was good until 2000 I started to get very tired and pale and found out one of the repairs went bad, I had re-coarrtation of the aorta. Had it repaired in 2001 at Cedars Sinai. Soon they tell me that I will need to have aortic value replacement. I am very thankful for Dr. Blaylock and Dr. Thomas.

I am thankful that I have made it this far.

michael parker says on April 20th, 2010 at 10:35 am

I have watch the movie sevaral times and never got to see it from the beginning not really thinking that this movie was a story about a great man DR.Thomas after watching the movie the first time I saw at the end of the movie this is a true story of Vivien Thomas after the fifth or six timeof seeing this movie I decided to google his name and I found out that I was not the only one that felt this way I truely regret that at this time in my life I just recently by seeing the movie found out about this great pioneer and in the same thought feel so proud and blessed to know that God chose this man to show the world that he looks at the heart not at the ouside as we do. I am very inspired even at this juncture of my being to know of this man.Thank God for using these two men the obedience of Dr.Blaylock and the vision of DR.Vivien Thomas.

RwandaCanada says on October 13th, 2010 at 5:58 am

A great story that should be shown in class rooms, how I wish I had ment Dr. Vivien Thomas. I wonder how his daughters and grand children doing, they should do a documentory on their family.

Aviyah says on March 25th, 2011 at 3:12 pm

My Husband and I just had the honor of watching this movie through Netflix and what a treat! Being history buffs we had not heard of Dr. Thomas before. We have of course heard, seen and read all kinds of information concerning other great Black Americans i.e., Dr. Ben Carson, and loved the information that comes along with the struggles of our people in this country, but this movie was just another testament to how through the arts the greatness that we have accomplished and continue to accomplish in this country as a people can be dug up and finally revealed to the masses. Dr. Thomas was truly a pioneer/genus far beyond the effects of any societal disparity (racism) and gives credence to the fact that no matter the adversity one can accomplish goals and dreams because when you are destined to make change happen you will do that, no matter who tries to stop it. Thank you so much for this blog and thanks for taking the time to keep this great man in the ‘lime-light’ when it comes to identifying the ground work on heart surgery. He will not be forgotten….I will make sure of that.

Taiwo says on August 5th, 2011 at 3:50 am

I was very happy when I watched the movie about Dr Vivien Thomas,I felt honored, my eyes were filled with tears when his look alike picture was unveiled, how I wished I was there.Thank God for bringing out the best in black man.

Tom Andersen says on March 1st, 2014 at 12:47 pm

His is a fascinating story especially in my family for we would not exist without him. It is my mother who is the first patient to survive the shunt surgery. She is still going strong at 82.

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