Alfred Blalock was an American surgeon who was known for his work on shock and blue baby syndrome. Blalock has always thought that he was a failure, even when he was a child. However, he never really understood and figured out his own talent and perseverance, which helped him make great strides in surgery and science. After getting his M.D. from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, he tried to get a surgical residency at the same school, but he didn’t get accepted because he had average grades. In the end, he moved to the School of Medicine at Vanderbilt as Chief Residency in Surgery. At the same time, he worked as an instructor, and after eleven years, he was a Professor of Surgery. He chose Vivien Thomas, an African-American carpenter, to work in his lab because he could tell she was talented. They started working on the medical condition of shock and found out what caused it and how to treat it. This helped save many lives during WWII. Later, when he moved to Johns Hopkins as the Director of Surgery, he took Thomas with him. There, they started working with Helen Taussig on blue baby syndrome and came up with a surgical way to treat it. Blalock was also an amazing teacher and guide. He was given many awards and honorary degrees and was invited to join many national and international medical societies because of his work in medicine.
Early years and childhood
Alfred Blalock was born in the small Georgia town of Culloden on April 5, 1899. His merchant father, George Zadock Blalock, also owned a cotton plantation. He was very strict with rules and put a lot of value on education. Martha Blalock nee Davis was his mother.
Alfred was the oldest of his parents’ five children. Elizabeth and Edgar, who were born later, were two of his younger siblings. He was a kind child with a charming smile. He worked hard at school and wouldn’t go to bed until he had done his homework perfectly. He thought a lot of his father.
When he was 11, his father got sick, so his family moved to the nearby town of Jonesboro, where there were better medical facilities. Here, he went to the local school through the ninth grade. When he was fourteen, he moved to Georgia Military School, which is now called Woodward Academy.
Alfred went to Georgia University in the fall of 1915 as a sophomore instead of a freshman. He did well in school and had a lot of fun with his friends at the University.
In his senior year, he became the yearbook’s associate editor. Later, he became the senior class’s secretary and treasurer. He was a good tennis player and often took part in college tournaments. He was also in the college debating society, junior cabinet, and Sigma Chi fraternity.
Alfred Blalock got his A.B. from Georgia University in 1918. That fall, he went to Johns Hopkins School of Medicine to study medicine. Here, too, he kept doing things outside of school. For example, he ran a bookstore to pay for most of his costs at the School.
He also played tennis and golf a lot, which is how he became friends with Tinsley Harrison, who went on to become a specialist in heart medicine. He also joined Alpha Omega Alpha at some point in the past.
Harrison says that Alfred Blalock didn’t waste his time as most students did by talking or playing cards. When he wasn’t working or having fun, he would study. But he did not get very good grades. When he graduated in 1822, he was near the middle of his class.
Alfred Blalock’s Internship
Alfred Blalock had realized by this time that he was best at surgery, so when he got his MD, he tried to get a surgical residency at Johns Hopkins. He didn’t get a surgical internship because he didn’t do well enough in his classes. Despite that, he chose to wait.
He started out as a House Medical Officer-Urology working for Hugh Hampton Young. He did well enough that in 1923, he was given an Assistant Residency in the General Surgical Service. He didn’t get a new job the next year, which he could never get over.
In July 1924, he started working as an Extern in Otolaryngology. Among other things, he worked on dogs’ recurrent laryngeal nerve regeneration. It led to the release of his first paper, “The Effects of Changes in Hydrogen Ion Concentration on the Blood Flow of Morphinized Dogs” (1925).
At Vanderbilt University
Alfred Blalock became the Chief Residency in Surgery at the newly reorganized School of Medicine at Vanderbilt in Nashville. He moved there in September 1925. He had at first hoped to be put in charge of the laboratory for surgical pathology, but instead, he was put in charge of the laboratory for experiments.
In 1926, he published his second paper, which was called “Partial Tracheal Obstruction, An Experimental Study on the Effects on the Circulation and Respiration of Morphinized Dogs.” After that, he started studying how bleeding and trauma affect the blood flow in dogs.
In 1927, he was told he had tuberculosis and was sent to the Trudeau Sanatorium in Saranac Lake, New York, for a year. After getting better in 1928, he went to Cambridge, England, to work in the Department of Physiology. Later that same year, he became an Assistant Professor of Surgery at Vanderbilt.
Blalock started studying shock and how it affects the amount of oxygen in the blood when he got back home. In 1930, he was given the title of Associate Professor, which was a step up. Blalock felt he needed a new lab assistant because he had more work to do. He found one in Vivien Thomas, a black carpenter.
Thomas was hired as a janitor, but he started working as a lab technician and learned surgical procedures very quickly. Soon, he also learned how to do experiments and write down information for Blalock’s research. Blalock gave Thomas more freedom little by little.
Blalock and Thomas did a lot of research to find out what causes bleeding and trauma shock. By the middle of the 1930s, Blalock had shown that fluid loss outside of the vascular bed causes shock, which can be treated by adding more fluid. This disproved the old idea that the condition was caused by toxins in the blood.
They then began trying out vascular and heart surgery. In 1939, Blalock, who was now a full Professor, published the results in a paper called “Experimental Observations on the Effects of Connecting by Suture the Left Main Pulmonary Artery to the Systemic Circulation.” It gave him a good name as a surgeon and researcher.
To go back to Hopkins
Alfred Blalock was asked to be the chair of the Department of Surgery at the Hopkins School of Medicine in 1940. He was happy to accept the offer, but only if Vivien Thomas could come with him. His request was granted right away.
In 1941, Blalock became the head of the Department of Surgery at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He was also a Professor and Chief of Surgery. Right away, he started operating every day, and he was also very involved in teaching the students and training the medical staff.
Later, he started the Friday noon clinic, which became well-known for its practical advice. In the meantime, he brought George Duncan, an assistant resident in surgery at Vanderbilt, to Hopkins so he could keep working on his shock experiments.
In 1943, Dr. Edward A. Park, who was a professor of pediatrics, asked Blalock for help. He was going to see a kid who was born with a lung cyst. Dr. Park asked him if he thought there was anything that could be done about the coarctation or congenital narrowing of the aorta.
So he wouldn’t fail at anything, he started a series of tests. In 1944, he and Dr. Edward Park finally did the operation for coarctation. By that time, doctors in Sweden and Boston had already done operations like his, so he couldn’t claim to be the first.
After the surgery, he was talking about how it went at a conference. A pediatric cardiologist named Dr. Helen Brooke Taussig came up to him and told him about cases of Tetralogy of Fallot. Now, he turned his attention to this new problem.
Tetralogy of Fallot, which is also called “blue baby syndrome,” is a complex heart defect with four parts that were thought to be untreatable until then. Blalock, Taussig, and Thomas began to work on it, and the first surgery was done on a 15-month-old girl named Eileen Saxon on November 29, 1944.
Even though the operation went well, the child’s skin turned blue again. Now, they tried to put another shunt on the other side of the baby’s chest, but the baby, who was less than two years old, was too young to survive and died a few days later.
Eileen died, but she was alive long enough to show that the operation could work. They found out later that the method worked best with older kids. But Eileen could not have lived because she was already dead when she was put on the operating table.
Blalock and Taussig both wrote a report about the “blue baby operation” in 1945. It got the attention of the medical community right away. Along with the steady flow of patients who wanted to be treated, he also had to deal with requests to teach and give lectures on the subject.
Blalock kept working on his experiments even though he had more responsibilities. In 1948, Blalock and Rollins Hanlon came up with a way for surgeons to fix the problem of the heart’s main blood vessels being in the wrong place.
By the 1950s, he had done more than 1,000 surgeries to fix heart problems that were present at birth. But surgery wasn’t the only thing that made him famous. He was also a great teacher and mentor who helped his students do their best.
At Hopkins, he taught at least 38 chief residents, as well as nine department chairs and ten division heads. Many of his students went on to become famous heart surgeons.
Alfred Blalock was named Chairman of the Medical Board of The Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1955. He held this position until 1964 when he retired. After that, the same hospital made him a professor and the surgeon-in-chief emeritus.
Works of note
Alfred Blalock is best known for coming up with the surgery to treat Tetralogy of Fallot, also called “blue baby syndrome.” In this syndrome, the blood flows around the lungs. This causes the body to get less oxygen, which makes it look blue.
Dr. Taussig, who had worked with many babies like this, thought that the defect could only be fixed by increasing the amount of blood going to the lungs by reconnecting “the pipes.” Thomas and Blalock both realized that the answer was in a method they had worked on at Vanderbilt a long time ago.
Thomas was then accused of giving dogs the blue-baby syndrome and then having an operation to fix it. After working with 200 dogs for two years, a way to fix the problem was found. It was called the “Blalock–Thomas–Taussig shunt,” and it was used to fix 15-month-old Eileen.
Awards & Achievements
In 1947, Alfred Blalock was made a Chevalier de la République Francaise, Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur
In 1948, he and Dr. Taussig were both given the Passano Award. He was also named “Man of the Year” in Baltimore that same year.
In 1949, the René Leriche Prize of the International Society of Surgery was given to him for being the best vascular surgeon in the world.
He won the Matas Award in 1950.
In 1953, he won the Distinguished Service Award from the American Medical Association.
Blalock was given the Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award in 1954, along with Helen Taussig and Robert Gross, for their “distinguished contributions to cardiovascular surgery and knowledge.”
In 1959, he and Taussig won a total of $25,000 from the Gairdner Foundation Award (Toronto).
Personal History and Legacies
On October 25, 1930, Alfred Blalock married Mary Chambers O’Bryan. William Rice, Mary Elizabeth, and Alfred Dandy were their three children. They stayed married until 1958 when Mary died.
Blalock married Alice Waters, a close neighbor, in 1959, and they stayed together until he died.
Alfred Blalock died on September 15, 1964. He was 65 years old.
Alfred Blalock’s name is on the Alfred Blalock Clinical Sciences Building at Hopkins Hospital.
Estimated Net worth
Alfred Blalock’s estimated net worth is $6 million, and he makes most of his money from his jobs as a surgeon, university professor, and scientist. We don’t know enough about Alfred Blalock’s cars or his way of life.
Elizabeth, his sister, said that when Blalock was a child, he would “rather have his mother brush his hair than have his father look at him hard.”