62 Years Ago:
November 28, 2006 12:29 PM   Subscribe

Save a Child, Save the World On November 29, 1944, Dr. Alfred Blalock made an incision in the chest of young Eileen Saxon. He was about to perform an operation suggested by a dyslexic, nearly deaf woman and perfected by an African American. Assisting in this madness were two men who would also become giants in their field. Cardiac Surgery has progressed to the point that having a Congenital Heart Defect isn't always fatal. In fact, there are enough adults living with heart defects that there is an organization supporting Adult Chongenital Heart Defect research and education. While there is a great movie about the operation and Thomas covers it in his book, we still don't know one important fact: Did Blalock rub the toe that morning?
posted by Wildcat3 (9 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Great post! I am very familiar with B-T shunts as they are known in the medical community and loved the movie you cite. The operation was a real milestone, but unfortunately it is only a palliative procedure that buys most patients only a few more years unless something is done. It is currently used typically to buy time to allow newborns to grow enough to withstand a more complex operation; it has also been modified some since it was invented, but is still close to the original. The work done by Blalock and his colleagues emboldened others such as C. Walton Lillehei and John Gibbon to attempt complete anatomical repair of heart defects; this was first done on atrial septal defects using hypothermia to stop the heart and protect the patient, but in order to repair anything more complex they had to invent the heart-lung machine. This was first used successfully in 1953; the patient is still alive and well but avoids publicity. The entire story is told in this book.
posted by TedW at 1:40 PM on November 28, 2006

Excellent post, man. I've always wanted to view more representation for, like, my Chong-enital heart defect, man. *toke*
posted by tehloki at 1:42 PM on November 28, 2006

Great post Wildcat3. I only knew of this event due to the movie, but never knew about Dr. Taussig's role in it until now. So much of this story skirted against the expected -- the fact that heart surgery was operable, the fact that a woman could be a doctor, the ability of the African-American lab technician to do something for science that most doctors never get to do. Medicine is a far more meritocratic place nowadays because of events like this one. Best of all, they prove that nothing is dictum in medicine.

Cardiac Surgeons have sort of fallen on sort hard times recently believe it or not. The amount of coronary artery bypass surgeries was crazy high in the 1980's, early 1990s and they were the wealthiest surgeons/doctors around. Now, stenting saves a lot of people from chest incisions.....and there's sort of a relative glut of CT surgeons. It's a sort of easy fellowship to get for a surgeon.....

Another movement in the field is this machine......which is going to allow for even more amazing things in pediatric cardiac surgery....

Developments like that are could be why this study learned what it did.

Thanks again.
posted by skepticallypleased at 1:53 PM on November 28, 2006

Excellent post, man. I've always wanted to view more representation for, like, my Chong-enital heart defect, man.

Slip o' da finger!
posted by Wildcat3 at 2:02 PM on November 28, 2006

Fascinating stuff. Thanks Wildcat3!
posted by frecklefaerie at 2:06 PM on November 28, 2006

There was a terrific HBO movie last year called "Something the Lord Made" about Blalock (Alan Rickman) & Thomas (Mos Def).
posted by pruner at 5:22 PM on November 28, 2006

oops... guess I should've checked all the links before posting.
posted by pruner at 5:23 PM on November 28, 2006

Save the cheerleader, save the world?
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 5:32 PM on November 28, 2006

The movie is absolutely wonderful. It turns up pretty regularly on various HBO and other cable channels. It's worth your time if only to catch the very talented Rickman do a southern drawl. Great post, thanks for all the links.
posted by etaoin at 5:42 PM on November 28, 2006

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