Breakthrough!: How Three People Saved "Blue Babies" and Changed Medicine Forever

Jim Murphy
In 1944 a groundbreaking operation repaired the congenital heart defect known as blue baby syndrome. The operation's success brought the surgeon Alfred Blalock international fame and paved the way for open-heart surgery. But the technique had been painstakingly developed by Vivien Thomas, Blalock's African American lab assistant, who stood behind Blalock in the operating room to give him step-by-step instructions.  The stories of this medical and social breakthrough and the lives of Thomas, Blalock, and their colleague Dr. Helen Taussig are intertwined in this compelling nonfiction narrative.

Reviews

Reviewed: 2019-03-20

This book can either be classified as a social history or a collective biography. I think that it fits as a collective biography because it shares the personal stories of the three people who all had a hand in developing the cure for "Blue Baby Syndrome". I am reluctant to call this a social history because though time does pass, the central link of "Blue Baby Syndrome" takes place over a relatively short time. I think that social histories tend to discuss movements, and things that take place over a greater number of years that have a lot of nuance to them. Though some non-fiction does not use the traditional storytelling elements, this one does. The plot takes the reader through the history of the procedure to save blue babies. It moves at a good pace, and the reader is never left bored or lost. The structure makes sense as well, with the reader first being given an understanding of Vivian Thomas, then the partnership with Dr. Blalock and third, introducing Dr. Taussig. One worry of reading anything involving: history, a white person and a person of color, is whitewashing or that the white person will be drawn up as a savior for the person of color. This book does not do that. Dr. Blalock seems to be portrayed honestly. He did what was best for himself, with little consideration for Thomas. The good that he did do for Thomas was self-serving. Though they had a good working relationship, "He an Thomas often had a glass of whiskey in the lab after work when they say down to talk over projects," that relationship is not made to be something it wasn't, "but they never had a drink together in public." Dr. Blalock respected Thomas' skill and intelligence, but he was still a product of his time. The honest way in which their relationship is presented, gives credence to Jim Murphy's writing. In addition to this, Murphy includes many photographs of people from the book. These pictures help to draw the reader in, and lend to a better understanding of the material. At the end of the book there is a large bibliography, as well as an index which would be very helpful to students using this book for research purposes. As an educator, I would feel inclined to include other writings of his in the classroom. I find this book to be best suited for advanced 5th graders to 8th graders.

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