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BREAKTHROUGH!

Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 4 years, 10 months ago

18 July 2015 BREAKTHROUGH! HOW THREE PEOPLE SAVED “BLUE BABIES” AND CHANGED MEDICINE FOREVER by Jim Murphy, Clarion, December 2015, 144p., ISBN: 978-0-547-82183-2

 

“Please help me mend my broken heart

And let me live again.”

--Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb (1971)

 

“It wasn’t only that the operation was very complex and risky. The surgery he [Dr. Blalock] was about to perform on Eileen’s struggling heart had never been done on a human before, let alone one so tiny or frail. This was why the balcony-type observation stand along the west side of room 706 was packed with curious John Hopkins staff and why a movie camera had been set up pointing at the operating table. If the operation worked--if the patient survived--history would be made.

Moreover, Blalock had never performed this procedure, not even on an experimental animal. In fact, the only person to have done it successfully, start to finish, wasn’t an official member of the surgical team. According to hospital rules, he wasn’t even supposed to be in the room. But he was there now, at Blalock’s request, standing just behind the surgeon on a wooden step stool. His name was Vivien Thomas, and most people at the hospital thought he was a janitor.”

 

Why did most people figure Vivien Thomas to be a janitor? Because this was taking place in the South in 1944 and he was the black guy in the room. BREAKTHROUGH! is, in large measure, the story of Vivien Thomas. Thomas, had he been white, would have gotten credit a whole lot sooner for his trailblazing role in saving babies and little kids born with defective hearts. Had he been white, and given his talent, he’d undoubtedly have had the opportunity to become a surgeon like his boss, Dr. Alfred Blalock.

 

Dr. Blalock got all the credit for the successful heart operation. He was white. When Vivien Thomas followed Dr. Blalock to John Hopkins University in 1941, after eleven years as Blalock’s research assistant at Vanderbilt, you can guess which of the two couldn’t find a decent place to live. BREAKTHROUGH! is, in part, a story of discrimination in America shortly before the dawn of the modern Civil Rights Movement.

 

The book’s third principal character is Dr. Helen Taussig, head of the Children’s Cardiac Clinic at John Hopkins for more than three decades. She had jars and jars filled with little hearts from the young patients she’d not been able to save. She was the one who asked Dr. Blalock to figure out how to repair defective hearts. Blalock asked Vivien Thomas to solve the problem.

 

In chronicling what was wrong with the gravely ill child being operated on, author Jim Murphy provides understandable explanations of how a heart develops, how it’s supposed to work, and what needed to be repaired so that Eileen might live and prosper. There is a strong science component to BREAKTHROUGH!.

 

By the time the historic operation took place in November 1944, Vivien Thomas had repeatedly and successfully performed this heart surgery on dogs. Animal experimentation is the way that new medical procedures are perfected: Doctors experiment on animals before performing new medical procedures on people. Drug companies, cosmetic companies, and food additive companies all engage in animal testing before marketing new products.

 

Should animals undergo experimental surgical procedures so that doctors can figure out whether a procedure will work on people? Should animals have perfume splashed in their eyes for the sake of cosmetic companies? Author Jim Murphy presents this issue, too. The ethics of animal testing might be the what many young readers--particularly young pet owners--reflect upon after finishing this book.

 

Jim Murphy’s BREAKTHROUGH! is a tasty mix of biography, history, science, and ethics. There’s a lot to like and to think about in this quick nonfiction read for middle schoolers.

 

Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Pickshttp://richiespicks.pbworks.com

BudNotBuddy@aol.com

https://www.facebook.com/richie.partington

Moderatorhttp://groups.yahoo.com/group/middle_school_lit/

 

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