Alfred Blalock

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Alfred Blalock
Picture
Alfred Blalock
Born April 5, 1899
Culloden, Georgia,
United States
Died September 15, 1964(1964-09-15) (aged 65)
Education University of Georgia
Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
Medical career
Profession Surgeon
Institutions Johns Hopkins Hospital, Vanderbilt University Hospital
Research Tetralogy of Fallot, shock
Notable prizes Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award (1954)
Gairdner Foundation International Award (1959)

Alfred Blalock (April 5, 1899 – September 15, 1964) was a 20th-century American surgeon most noted for his research on the medical condition of shock and for the development of the Blalock-Taussig Shunt, a surgical procedure he developed together with surgical technician Vivien Thomas and pediatric cardiologist Helen Taussig to relieve the cyanosis from Tetralogy of Fallot—known commonly as the blue baby syndrome.[1] This operation ushered in the modern era of cardiac surgery. Blalock worked at both Vanderbilt University and the Johns Hopkins University, where he studied both as an undergrad and worked as chief of surgery.[2] He is known as a medical pioneer who won various awards, including Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award. He was also nominated for the Nobel prize in medicine .

Early life and Education[edit]

Blalock was born in Culloden, Georgia, the son of Martha "Mattie" (Davis) and George Zadock Blalock, a merchant.[3] At the age of 14, he entered as a senior at Georgia Military Academy, a preparatory school for the University of Georgia.[4] Shortly after, Blalock attended the University of Georgia as a sophomore undergraduate, skipping his freshman year. While in college, Blalock was heavily involved in the university social life and athletics. He played tennis and golf, was a member of the Delta Chapter of the Sigma Chi fraternity, and was secretary and treasurer of his senior class. He was also known as a "ladies man" due to his frequent trips to nearby Goucher College, a women's school.[5] After graduating with an A.B. in 1918 at the age of 19, Blalock entered the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, where he roomed with and began a lifetime friendship with Tinsley Harrison. At Johns Hopkins, his record was not considered "outstanding" as he graduated near the middle of his class.[6] He did, however, excel in surgical courses while at Hopkins and quickly discovered that he wanted to be a surgeon. Blalock earned his medical degree at Johns Hopkins in 1922. Hoping to gain appointment to a surgical residency at Johns Hopkins due to his admiration of William S. Halsted, Blalock remained in Baltimore for the next three years. However, he was denied a surgical residency with Halsted because of his average academic record. Instead, he completed an internship in urology, in which he performed exceptionally well. He also completed one year of an assistant residency on the general surgical service (his contract was not renewed), and an externship in ENT.[4]

Vanderbilt University[edit]

In September 1925, Blalock joined Harrison at Vanderbilt University in Nashville to complete his residency under Barney Brooks, who was Vanderbilt University Hospital's first Professor of Surgery and Chief of the Surgical Service.[6] Blalock spent much of his time in the surgical research laboratory, which he found both challenging and exciting.[6] While at Vanderbilt, he studied the nature and treatment of hemorrhagic and traumatic shock. By experimenting on dogs, he found that surgical shock resulted from the loss of blood, which he encouraged the use of blood plasma or whole blood products to prevent. This research resulted in the saving of many lives on the battlefield during World War II. Unfortunately, Blalock had frequent bouts of tuberculosis which developed during his later years at Vanderbilt.

Working with Vivien Thomas[edit]

While working in Vanderbilt, Blalock became increasingly busy and had several obligations that kept him from spending much time in the laboratory. Blalock searched for a new lab assistant that he could count on to carry out all of his experiments. He ended up hiring Vivien Thomas, a young African American carpenter, as his lab technician. Although Blalock hired Thomas as a lab technician, he was officially titled a janitor. From Blalock’s perspective, Thomas quickly learned how to perform surgical procedures, carry out experiments, and record data for Blalock's research. As they got to know each other, Blalock granted Thomas increased independence in the laboratory, something that was very uncommon, especially for an African-American in the segregated south.[2] Blalock and Thomas carried out various experiments relating to shock and cardiac output, as well as developed a technique for adrenal transplantation. Together, they developed new, unheard of techniques such as the transplantation of the kidney to the neck in order to remove the kidney’s nerve supply and study the effect on “Goldblatt hypertension”. Blalock and Thomas built a very strong relationship over the years and eventually would become close friends.[2]

Johns Hopkins[edit]

In 1941 Alfred Blalock was asked to return to Hopkins to work as surgeon-in-chief of the hospital, professor, and director of the department of surgery of the medical school.[7]

When Blalock was offered Chief of Surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1941, he requested that his assistant Vivien Thomas come along with him. They formed a very close relationship that would last more than thirty years. Together, they developed a shunt technique to bypass coarctation of the aorta. While they were working on this, Helen Taussig presented him with the problem of the blue baby syndrome - a congenital heart defect known as Tetralogy of Fallot which results in inadequate oxygenation of the blood.

In 1944 Blalock, with Thomas as his advisor, performed the first "blue baby" operation on Eileen Saxon, a 15-month-old baby. The operation was successful, although the baby died a few months later. After the innovative first completion of the surgery, Blalock became comfortable with the procedure and performed it on thousands of children, often with Thomas by his side. The new operation not only directly saved thousands of lives, it marked the start of the modern era of cardiac surgery, as it was the first successful surgery on the human heart of the modern medical era.[1][8] As of 2004, doctors in the United States alone perform over 1.75 million heart operations annually.

The Blue Baby Operation
Picture

During his later years at Hopkins, Blalock continued to research the heart and vascular surgery. With Edwards Park, he developed a bypass operation in 1944, and with Rollins Hanlon, he created a technique for overcoming the transposition of the great blood vessels of the heart, in 1948.[9]

In teaching and in research he paved the way for a new generation of surgeons. Blalock really enjoyed teaching. As the chief of surgery at Hopkins, Blalock trained 38 chief residents, as well as 9 chairmen of departments, 10 division chiefs, and many others. Students of Blalock appreciate his unique ability to bring out the best of them.[10]

Blalock retired from Hopkins in 1964, just two and a half months before his death from metastatic urothelial carcinoma of the ureter.[11][12]

Personal life[edit]

Blalock married Mary Chambers O'Bryan in October 1930; they had three children: William Rice Blalock, Mary Elizabeth Blalock and Alfred Dandy Blalock The two had met during Dr. Blalock’s years at Vanderbilt. Following her death he married Alice Waters in 1959.[11]

Dr. Blalock is known for having an appreciation of sports and the outdoors. He enjoyed playing tennis, golfing, fishing, and boating.[5]

Recognition[edit]

In 1955, Alfred Blalock was elected as Chairman of the Medical Board of The Johns Hopkins Hospital. When he retired in 1964, he was named a Professor Emeritus of Surgery, as well as a Surgeon-in-Chief Emeritus for the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and The Johns Hopkins Hospital.[13]

Blalock published more than 200 articles along with a book titled Principles of Surgery, Shock and Other Problems. He also delivered more than 40 honorary lectures, and was awarded honorary degrees from nine universities. Blalock also belonged to 43 medical societies in the United States and other countries.[11] These included the American Philosophical Society, the National Academy of Sciences and Royal Society of Medicine.[14]

In 1954 Blalock received (with Robert Gross and Helen Taussig) the Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award "For distinguished contributions to cardiovascular surgery and knowledge."[15]

Blalock also received the Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur, the Passano Award, the Matas Award, and the Albert Lasker Medical Research Award.[16]

The Alfred Blalock Clinical Sciences Building at Hopkins Hospital was named after him.[1]

Alfred Blalock was also honored with the Baltimore "Man of the Year" award in 1948.

Films about Blalock and Thomas[edit]

In 2003, the PBS series American Experience premiered the Spark Media documentary "Partners of the Heart", which was about the collaboration between Blalock and Vivien Thomas at Vanderbilt and Johns Hopkins University. The documentary was directed by Andrea Kalin and written by Kalin and Lou Potter, with re-creations directed by Bill Duke and narration by Morgan Freeman.[17][18][19] The "Partners of the Heart" went on to win the Organization of American Historians' Erik Barnouw Award for Best History Documentary in 2004.[20]

In the 2004 HBO docudrama Something the Lord Made about the Blalock-Thomas collaboration, Blalock was portrayed by Alan Rickman and Thomas by Mos Def. Robert Cort produced the film, which went on to win three Emmy Awards for Outstanding Cinematography for a Miniseries or Movie, Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special and Outstanding Made for Television Movie.[21]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c McCabe, Katie (August 1989). "Like Something the Lord Made". The Washingtonian. Retrieved 8 November 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c Timmermans, Stefan (April 2003). "A Black Technician and Blue Babies". Social Studies of Science 33 (2): 197–229. 
  3. ^ http://livesonline.rcseng.ac.uk/biogs/E004905b.htm
  4. ^ a b Beaty, Claude A.; George, Timothy J.; Conte, John V. (2012-2). "Centennial Presidential Perspective: Dr. Alfred Blalock". The Journal of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery 143 (2): 260–263. doi:10.1016/j.jtcvs.2011.10.071. ISSN 0022-5223. PMC 4128896. PMID 22248679. Retrieved 2015-04-16.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  5. ^ a b Beaty, Claude A.; George, Timothy J.; Conte, John V. (2012-2). "Centennial Presidential Perspective: Dr. Alfred Blalock". The Journal of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery 143 (2): 260–263. doi:10.1016/j.jtcvs.2011.10.071. ISSN 0022-5223. PMC 4128896. PMID 22248679. Retrieved 2015-04-06.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  6. ^ a b c "Alfred Blalock. Surgeon, Educator, and Pioneer in Shock and Cardiac Researc...: EBSCOhost". ehis.ebscohost.com. Retrieved 2015-04-16. 
  7. ^ "Surgeon, Alfred Blalock". www.medicalarchives.jhmi.edu. Retrieved 2015-04-09. 
  8. ^ Field, Mike, "Hopkins pioneered 'blue baby' surgery 50 years ago; 'I Remember ... Thinking It Was Impossible'", The Gazette, May 30, 1995
  9. ^ "American Experience | Partners of the Heart | Legacy". www.pbs.org. Retrieved 2015-04-09. 
  10. ^ Beaty, Claude A.; George, Timothy J.; Conte, John V. (2012-2). "Centennial Presidential Perspective: Dr. Alfred Blalock". The Journal of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery 143 (2): 260–263. doi:10.1016/j.jtcvs.2011.10.071. ISSN 0022-5223. PMC 4128896. PMID 22248679. Retrieved 2015-04-09.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  11. ^ a b c Strayhorn, David, Memorial: Alfred Blalock, M.D., National Institutes of Health
  12. ^ Hatcher CR: Aflred Blalock. Clin Cardiol 1986; 9: 172-175.
  13. ^ Beaty, Claude A.; George, Timothy J.; Conte, John V. (2012-2). "Centennial Presidential Perspective: Dr. Alfred Blalock". The Journal of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery 143 (2): 260–263. doi:10.1016/j.jtcvs.2011.10.071. ISSN 0022-5223. PMC 4128896. PMID 22248679. Retrieved 2015-04-20.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  14. ^ Beaty, Claude A.; George, Timothy J.; Conte, John V. (2012-2). "Centennial Presidential Perspective: Dr. Alfred Blalock". The Journal of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery 143 (2): 260–263. doi:10.1016/j.jtcvs.2011.10.071. ISSN 0022-5223. PMC 4128896. PMID 22248679. Retrieved 2015-04-20.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  15. ^ Lasker Award 1954
  16. ^ "Surgeon, Alfred Blalock". www.medicalarchives.jhmi.edu. Retrieved 2015-04-20. 
  17. ^ American Experience | Partners of the Heart
  18. ^ Amazon.com: American Experience - Partners Of The Heart: Morgan Freeman, Dr. Levi Watkins, Dr. J. Alex Haller Jr., John Dryden (IV), Dr. Helen Taussig, Dr. Denton A. Cooley, C...
  19. ^ Partners of the Heart
  20. ^ Erik Barnouw Award Winners
  21. ^ Dentist Had Hankering for Show Business, Washington Post, November 11, 2007

Bibliography[edit]

  • Thomas, Vivien T., Partners of the Heart: Vivien Thomas and His Work With Alfred Blalock,(originally published as Pioneering Research in Surgical Shock and Cardiovascular Surgery: Vivien Thomas and His Work with Alfred Blalock), University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985. ISBN 0-8122-1634-2.
  • McCabe, Katie, "Like Something the Lord Made" Washingtonian magazine, August 1989. Reprinted in Feature Writing for Newspapers and Magazines: the Pursuit of Excellence, ed. by Jay Friedlander and John Lee. May also be accessed by going to the web site for the HBO film Something the Lord Made, www.hbo.com/films/stlm.
  • Merrill WH, "What's Past is Prologue", Ann Thorac Surg 1999; 68:2366-75.

External links[edit]