Pioneering Research in Surgical Shock and Cardiovascular Surgery: Vivien Thomas and His Work with Alfred Blalock : An Autobiography

By Vivien T. Thomas | Go to book overview

18

In 1957 a news item appeared in The Baltimore News -- Post (December 14) and Time (December 23). Both carried a picture of a dog being examined postoperatively. The Time article states that Surgeon Blalock repaid part of the debt he owed to dogs for their use in perfecting the Blue Baby operation; the dog, a Rottweiler pup named Squeaky had been suspected of having a heart defect, but examination by Blalock and pediatrician Helen Taussig showed that the trouble was intestinal blockage from an auto accident. Decision: immediate surgery performed by Surgeon Blalock with an operating time of 1 ½ hours. In the other article the legend identifies the examiner as an operating-room aide and states that Squeaky, owned by Mrs. Geraldine Carter, could some day tell her pups, "Darlings, your mother got operated on by Dr. Alfred Blalock."

The actual story is as follows. The day before the arrival of Mrs. Carter in the laboratory, Dr. Blalock had informed me that she was coming to bring her pup, which she thought surely must have a congenital heart defect because of the episodes of dyspnea and cyanosis. He had told me to see if I could find out what was wrong with her dog. When Mrs. Carter arrived with her pet, I asked several questions about the dog and seated her in my office while I carried the "patient" into the laboratory for some routine physical examinations. There was no doubt about the respiratory distress but on auscultation, the heart sounds did not indicate a cardiac problem. Dr. Gardner Smith, identified in the news articles as "a Blalock aide" and as "a laboratory aide," was a Fellow in surgery in the laboratory. He was quite interested and assisted in the examinations and diagnosis. On X-ray, it was determined that the right chest contained something more than an air-filled lung. There was no air in the right chest, and a diaphragmatic hernia was suspected. On further questioning of Mrs. Carter, it was learned that her pet had been struck by an automobile several weeks earlier. When the Professor arrived, I informed him that we thought the dog had a diaphragmatic hernia. He simply asked, "Are you going to fix it?" With the assistance of Dr. Smith, I proceeded to repair the hernia. Dr. Blalock stood by looking over our shoulders until we were near completion of the operation. Gardner W. Smith, M.D., is Professor of Surgery and Deputy Director, Section of Surgical Sciences at Johns Hopkins.

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