November 29, 1944: Surgery to correct blue baby syndrome is first done. Blue baby syndrome can be caused by a number of different heart defects, but the results are the same. The baby’s blood isn’t properly oxygenated which leads to a blue coloring of the fragile skin. The most common of these cardiovascular problems is called Tetralogy of Fallot. The first part of that refers to the four usual heart problems found in the condition. To get a diagnosis, all four are usually present, but at least three have to be. The major problem is that the heart has an opening between the right and left lower chambers (ventricles) allowing both the oxygenated and unoxgenated blood to mix before it pumped out to the body.
The condition was first described in 1672, again in 1773, and finally in 1888 by French doctor, Étienne-Louis Arthur Fallot, who got naming rights. It’s only treatment even today is surgical intervention and that doesn’t get the patient completely cured. While parts of the issues can be surgically corrected, there are lifelong problems stemming from the condition which lead to heartbeat irregularities and sometimes the need for other surgical procedures later, as well as other problems. The condition presents in about 3.9 births per 10,000 live births in the US and is responsible for about 10% of congenital heart problems.
Dr. Helen Taussig was a pediatric cardiologist and working at Johns Hopkins Hospital. She was presented with many babies with Tetralogy of Fallot and had no good way to treat them. She approach Dr. Alfred Blalock, a surgeon, and asked for his help in developing a treatment plan. Blalock’s surgical technician, Vivien Thomas, had developed a procedure which joined the end of the subclavian artery to the pulmonary artery for another purpose. It was thought that modifying this procedure would allow for the blood to be shunted properly to the lungs and then pumped out to the body with more oxygen.
The procedure was done for the first time on this day. Called the Blalock-Taussig shunt, the idea quickly caught on and spread throughout the world. As time passed, Thomas’s contribution to the procedure was finally recognized and his name was added as well. For his efforts, in 1976, Thomas was given an honorary doctorate from Johns Hopkins University. The procedure had been practiced in the lab using dogs so that Thomas could instruct Blalock on the procedure. Although Thomas was the man responsible for the technique, he could not operate on a human because he was not a doctor. Eileen Saxon was the 15-month-old patient who was the first human to be treated with the procedure. While it was initially successful, a few months later, Eileen was once again turning blue. It was hoped that a second procedure done on the opposite side would correct the problem, but she died soon after. They team learned the procedure was best done on older toddlers, but Eileen could not have waited as she was near death before the first surgery.
Advances in medicine and agriculture have saved vastly more lives than have been lost in all the wars in history. – Carl Sagan
Formerly, when religion was strong and science weak, men mistook magic for medicine; now, when science is strong and religion weak, men mistake medicine for magic. – Thomas Szasz
Medicine sometimes snatches away health, sometimes gives it. – Ovid
Medicine is a science of uncertainty and an art of probability. – William Osler
Also on this day: Warren Commission formed – In 1963, the Warren Commission was formed to investigate President Kennedy’s assassination.
Phonetic – In 1877, Thomas Edison demonstrated his phonograph.
Zong – In 1781, the Zong Massacre took place.
Going South – In 1929, the first fly-over of the South Pole occurred.
Video Games – In 1972, Pong came out.