It is clear, from all the detailed material he has had filed all these years, that Vivien Thomas had long planned some type of autobiography. It is a source of satisfaction to me that my prodding may have helped bring the work to fruition and that the secretarial assistance provided in Pittsburgh facilitated the project.
Dr. Thomas's book can, of course, be read at several levels. It is the record of the life, progress, and achievement of an American Negro with a remarkable character and a notable career. The book is written in the understated style and good humor that characterize its author; however, Dr. Thomas's staunch adherence to principle, the sense of his own worth and dignity, his comfortable independence can at times be as clearly discerned, even divined -- so subtle the message -- as we know them from daily association.
On another level the book provides an account, from an unusual perspective and by a remarkably perceptive observer, of the development of two major fields of research -- the investigations into the nature of shock and the study of the operative relief of several forms of congenital heart disease -- in which Thomas served for years as the uniquely gifted laboratory technician and collaborator of Dr. Alfred Blalock at Vanderbilt and Johns Hopkins. Thomas's insight into the problems, his accounts of their progressive solutions, his evaluations of the men with whom he worked, some already "arrived," others then still only medical students, are priceless primary sources of medical history. The stage for much of the book is the Hunterian Laboratory at Johns Hopkins under Alfred Blalock, when the department was at the height of a glorious renaissance, filled with men who have come to dominate the American surgical scene for the last thirty years and visited by surgeons from every part of the globe. Vivien Thomas worked with many of them and knew them all. The years marked the dawn of cardiac surgery, and Vivien Thomas was intimately involved.
Dr. Thomas's accounts of the development of the operation for relief of the tetralogy of Fallot, the operation for the relief of transposition of the great vessels, and the development of closed chest cardiac massage for the relief of cardiac arrest differ in some degree from the reports of others as well as from that notably erroneous category, "the generally accepted account." His story of the genesis of the operation for transposition also