Saturday, November 29, 2008

I'm thankful for Vivien Thomas

As I mumbled about this weekend, feeling a bit forlorn, a friend blogged a story about a man I knew nothing of, but whom I owe my child's life to. The story was so inspiring, I just have to share it here. Vivien Thomas is my newest hero.

Excerpted from Adventures of a Funky Heart...

Vivien Theodore Thomas was born on August 29, 1910 in Lake Providence, Louisiana. After graduating high school in 1929, he planned to attend Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State Normal School, (Tennessee State University) with hopes of becoming a doctor.

He had been in school two months when the stock market crashed, causing him to lose his part-time carpentry job. Forced to drop out of college, Thomas still found work as a Lab Assistant at Vanderbilt University Medical School, working for surgeon Dr. Alfred Blalock. Although hired to sweep floors and clean out cages, Vivien Thomas impressed Dr. Blalock with his intelligence. Blalock was so impressed that he trained Thomas to be his Surgical Technician.

Thomas began assisting Blalock in the study of shock during surgery. Shock is caused by a sudden drop in blood flow through the body, and can be fatal. Working together, Blalock and Thomas developed ways to prevent shock from occurring during an operation. By World War II most of their theories were in use, saving the lives of countless injured soldiers.

In 1941, Dr. Blalock was hired by Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, to serve as the hospital’s Chief Surgeon and as a Surgical Professor in the Hopkins Medical School. The doctor asked his trusted assistant to go with him, and Thomas agreed. But while Blalock was responsible for training every surgeon in the school, Thomas had to enter the building through the service entrance. He was also listed on the hospital payroll as a handyman.

The two men respected and trusted each other, but were hardly equal. At one time, Blalock was paid ten times more than Thomas. Often the doctor hired Thomas to serve drinks in his home during a social event. And never was Thomas allowed in the Operating Room.

It was at Johns Hopkins that the two men met Dr. Helen Taussig. Taussig had been hired in 1930 to oversee the Cardiac Clinic of the Harriet Lane Home, (Hopkins’ children’s hospital) and quickly grew interested in “Blue-Baby” diseases.

Usually, blood coming into the heart is routed first to the lungs, where it absorbs oxygen. The oxygen rich blood then goes back to the heart, where it is pumped throughout the body. Blue Babies are born with a badly formed heart or blood vessels that cannot provide enough oxygen to the blood. Their skin has a distinctive blueish tinge, especially in the fingertips. At that time Blue Baby diseases were incurable, and almost all of the patients died very young.

Dr. Taussig approached Dr. Blalock with an idea: if a Blue Baby’s heart couldn’t provide oxygen to the blood naturally , then why couldn’t a surgeon re-route the major blood vessels? Taussig’s plan was interesting but extremely dangerous. The operation would have to take place near the heart, and heart surgery was so risky it was almost never recommended. Any accidental damage to the heart would have to be repaired within 4 minutes, or the patient died.

Busy with his teaching duties, Blalock asked Vivien Thomas to work out the details of how such an operation could be done. Thomas began by studying medical textbooks, drawings and diagrams of hearts, and even real hearts taken from dead bodies. Then he operated on dogs, intentionally creating Blue Baby hearts in them. Later he would operate again, repairing the heart and making careful notes of everything he did. It was a slow process, learning exactly what had to be done. Many dogs died, and several of the surgical tools he needed didn’t even exist. Quite often, Thomas would invent them.

X-rays of the patient were another problem. X-ray films provide a good still photograph of the workings of the body. But Taussig preferred to use a fluoroscope. A fluoroscope image is best described as “X-ray TV”– It provided moving images of the interior of the body. If the patient accidentally moved, so did the picture. There was no way to record the fluoroscope image, so the three doctors would have to study their patient’s fluoroscope scans carefully and commit them to memory.

At last they felt they were ready, and Taussig began to search for a proper patient. On November 29, 1944, they operated on a little girl named Eileen. Although fifteen months old, Eileen only weighed nine pounds.

Thomas had planned to be in the observation room, watching the operation. Blalock said no – he felt more comfortable with Thomas close enough to give him advice. In preparation for the operation, Thomas had performed the procedure over 100 times on animals. Blalock had been taught the procedure by Thomas, but had actually done it only once. Breaking all the rules of the time, Thomas entered the operating room and guided Blalock through the operation.

Eileen’s heart never stopped beating and her blood vessels were only as thick as a matchstick. After about 90 minutes, Blalock was finished. Everyone held their breath as he removed the last clamp from a blood vessel. After a long pause, Helen Taussig said “Al, the baby’s lips are a glorious pink color.”

Proven to be a success, Blalock’s team performed nearly 300 operations in less than a year. Surgeons came from around the world to study Blalock’s new surgical procedures, only to learn that Thomas was the expert, not Blalock or Taussig. Still, the operation was known as the “Blalock-Taussig Shunt,” named for the surgeon who performed it and the doctor who suggested it.

Blalock retired in 1964 and died four months later. For six years, Thomas continued to teach but took on no major project – almost as if he were in mourning. But as the 1970’s began, more and more African-Americans were entering the Hopkins Medical School. To them, Vivien Thomas was not just one of their teachers, he became their mentor. And just as he had guided Blalock so many years before, Thomas’ advice and support guided a new generation of doctors through medical school.

Thomas died in 1985, just a few days before his autobiography was published.* Today, Vivien Thomas is almost unknown to the general public. But Dr. Alfred Blalock never forgot him. If someone stood too close to his right shoulder during an operation, Blalock would tell them to back away. “Only Vivien may stand there.”

* Thomas’ autobiography has been reissued with a new title: Partners of the Heart: Vivien Thomas and his work with Alfred Blalock.

And now, my friends, it's time to track down that autobiography. Thanks for sharing the story Steve!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Holiday Horrors

How was my weekend? Well...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Trying to Keep My Head Above Water

It's been a busy week or two since I've last had time to post. Preschool has officially started, and we have our first students. We took one student on that we were unable to keep, which is upsetting for me. But, I learned an important lesson on how Montessori is not for everyone. It was a long day on Friday, as we worked to figure out the best solution, which in the end resulted in our not taking on the little one. I've been upset about it all weekend, even though I know we did the right thing.

The girls are doing great! Katie got her first report card, with all perfect scores on her progress. She's gotten comfortable in her classroom, as her teacher informs me she's become quite the chatterbox. I'm glad she doesn't save it all for at home. It's amazing how much - and how long - a six year old can talk. I try to pay attention, but often feel my eyes glazing over about 5 minutes into her rendition of her entire day. Wow. She doesn't leave out a detail. I think that, instead of Guatanimo, they should tape shut the prisoner's mouth and stick them in a room with a rotation of six year old girls, each fresh from a day at school. Talk about torture. But I love that she's so open with me, so I shouldn't complain. Much.

Sadie has taken to preschool better than I thought she would. She has a tough time sharing mommy when I'm in the classroom, and has been remanded a few times for wanting to push others away when they come to close to me. She's enjoying her introductory lessons, though, and I'm amazed that a little spitfire like her will take her time to so delicately unroll her mat, place her materials on it just so, work quietly, and then put her mat away. Amazing stuff, this Montessori method. She is fiercely independent as always... we're past the biting phase, and now into a hitting one. Good times keep on rolling!

Preschool is hilarious, and has left me considering wanting to do another blog, anonymously. Seriously, the things these kids say and do are incredible - from potty jokes to play-do up the nose, it's been a nonstop barrel of laughs.

I'm still managing my two full-time clients and doing the work for my other business as well, so I barely have a moment to blink, let alone write these days. I'm zapped of energy, yet feeling enthusiastically hopeful about this school thing. I do enjoy it more than I imagined I would, and can't wait to see how we grow.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election 2.0

So, Obama won. It's no surprise, really. It was fun to be a part of history today. I actually got goosebumps as I stood in line with a hundred plus people at our little voting station, realizing that many, for the first time in their lives, were making an investment in our country. The woman behind me was 62 and voting for the first time. Wow.

Now to see how we reflect on this historic day four years from now...

The thing that I think isn't being talked about enough is the evolution of communication that led to this historic night. And how it will change elections next time around. Obama exploited Web 2.0, and I truly believe that this, plus grass roots efforts, was his potion for success. The Republican party can be blamed for choosing a poor VP candidate, neglecting to find a campaign winning message and many other things. But I think that truly, they lost because they did not embrace the evolution of communication, but kicked against it. They wanted to mandate what the public saw, and how they interpreted it. They failed to understand that, in today's society, the public defines the politician (or the company), destroying the long-held belief that the politician (or company) can dictate what it is and who it stands for. Evolution at its finest.

What scares me is the thought of our election four years from now. Because next time, both candidates will have caught onto technology and embraced it. Next time they'll be able to reach further into our homes and lives... scary, isn't it?!

UPDATE: Check this article out - great ideas on how Web 2.0 can infiltrate and change our political system.

Monday, November 03, 2008

GOOD Morning!

I awoke at 5:00 this morning to the girls fighting. I rolled out of bed, covered in sweat (I'm still recovering from bronchitis, which hit late last week). Came downstairs to discover Darla had eaten off half of the fur on her tail, leaving a nasty patch of red skin showing. The girls had destroyed what little I'd kept up over the weekend. And Sadie was hot. Great. She'd been sick early last week, got better within 24 hours, but then had been fighting something since Friday, so I sat her down, got her some food and drink and turned on the TV. Then I noticed Katie was hot too. Looks like there will be no school today.

I got both situated in front of the television and sat down to survey the damage. I discovered Carly had broken one of her nails, in HALF. It was dangling and bloody. Oh joy.

Katie got on my computer to check in on Webkinz, but quickly closed it and looked at me. Uh oh. Pale face, dark sunken eyes. Checked her fever 102. Checked Sadie's - 101. And mine? A mere 99.8 today.

So, I'm trying to decide now who should go to the doctor and who shouldn't. So far, since 5:00 a.m. I've changed two beds, bathed one child and one dog, tried to perform minor surgery on the other dog (unsuccessful), and started the sterilization process, which includes thus far two loads of laundry, a load of dishes, Lysol mass attack and vacuuming. Any one care to join in on my fun?

The only person I know who's having less fun than me today is Amanda, who's headed back to the clinker for more chemo. Please send positive mojo/energy/prayers her way - that they find the right cocktail to get her into remission this time around, minus the massive mouth sores. Hang in there, 'Manda!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Slacker McSlackity

I won't lie... I haven't felt like writing. So I haven't been. Life's taken some unexpected turns that have left me reeling a bit, but I'll be back in the game soon. In the mean time, I'll post some photos.

Sweatsuits - $15.
Reindeer headbands to be cut up and reused as cat and mouse ears - $ 2.
Staying up until 3 am making homemade Tom and Jerry costumes the night before the Halloween party - 5 hours of lost sleep.
Photos of your kids willingly wearing the most ridiculous costumes ever - Priceless.

Straw maze! A local farmer's market puts it up every year, and we have to go through it several times before the season is over.

There's no more chances of getting Sadie in an unposed shot. Every time I pull out the camera, she stops what she's doing (in this case, smashing pumpkin guts with the stem) to shout "Cheeez!"

Katie carved her pumpkin completely on her own! She held her mouth that way as she did it the entire time, too.

Crazy Hair Day at school on Halloween.
She loved it. Really she did.
Meanwhile, I hummed "Jem, she's truly outrageous..." all day long.

Sadie's ears weighed more than she did, and they kept flopping over with every breeze of wind. And we all couldn't stop laughing. Guess we'll go back to buying costumes next year - although the homemade ones will be good blackmail pictures later in life...

Hope you had a Happy Halloween, too!

Don't forget to VOTE on Tuesday!!!