In Celebration of Black History Month

Vivien Theodore Thomas “Pioneer of early cardiac corrective surgeries.”

August 29, 1910-Nov 26, 19

Dr. Vivien Theodore Thomas was born in Lake Providence Louisiana. After graduating high school with honors and became a laboratory assistant in 1930 with Dr. Alfred Blalock at Vanderbilt University. Under Blalock, Thomas quickly mastered difficult surgical techniques and collaborated on groundbreaking research in the causes of hemorrhagic and traumatic shock.


This work evolved into crush syndrome research, which helped save soldiers during World War II. Thomas also worked with Blalock to develop a corrective surgery procedure for tetralogy of Fallot, a rare condition present at birth caused by a combination of heart defects. The revolutionary lifesaving surgery is now known as the Blalock-Taussig shunt. However, in the era of institutional racism, Dr. Thomas did not receive credit for his crucial role.

Dr. Thomas served as a supervisor of the surgical lab at John Hopkins University for 35 years. In 1976, John Hopkins University presented Dr. Thomas with an honorary doctorate of Law, and he was appointed to the faculty of Johns Hopkins medical school as an instructor in surgery.

He also mentored multiple African American lab technicians, including Hopkins’s first black resident Dr. Watkins whom Dr. Thomas assisted with his groundbreaking work in the use of an automatic implantable defibrillator.

Brought to you by the Resident/Fellow IDEA Committee