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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University June 7, 2004 | Vol. 33 No. 37
SOM Launches Vivien Thomas Fund to Increase Diversity

The School of Medicine announced on May 26 the establishment of the Vivien Thomas Fund for Diversity to increase the number of minorities in the academic medicine talent pool. The fund honors the memory of the black surgical technician whose pivotal contributions to the development of the "blue baby" operation at Johns Hopkins 60 years ago ushered in the era of heart surgery.

"With the help of private philanthropy, we can reach out to groups considered underrepresented minorities and ensure their broadest possible representation in biomedical science and academic medicine," said Edward D. Miller, dean and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine. "We can best honor Vivien Thomas by removing for others the economic and racial barriers that often stood in his way."

Denied the chance to go to medical school by financial losses in the Great Depression, Thomas also was for many years denied — because of his race — the recognition he deserved for his work on the team that devised a means to correct a congenital heart defect known as Tetralogy of Fallot, or blue baby syndrome. His story is the subject of the HBO feature film Something the Lord Made, now being aired, and of the PBS documentary Partners of the Heart, which was based on Thomas' autobiography. Thomas died in 1985.

Operating on the heart was considered beyond reach in the 1940s, when Thomas helped design and perfect in animal models the operation imagined by surgeon Alfred Blalock and pediatric cardiologist Helen Taussig to repair the heart defect. Similarly out of reach were equal opportunities for blacks at Johns Hopkins and elsewhere in academic medicine. Thomas' intellect and skills had won him the post of Blalock's lab tech, but it took more than 25 years for him to be credited publicly for his role in devising the blue baby surgery.

In 1976, The Johns Hopkins University awarded him an honorary doctorate, and today his portrait hangs along with Alfred Blalock's in the lobby of The Johns Hopkins Hospital's Blalock Building.

The Vivien Thomas Fund, Miller said, is an extension of the school's commitment to diversity. In 2004, more than 11 percent of Johns Hopkins medical students are black, as are more than 60 of the full-time faculty, including such luminaries as surgeons Levi Watkins, Ben Carson and Edward Cornwell, and Vice Dean for Education David Nichols.

To contribute to the Vivien Thomas Fund, contact the Fund for Johns Hopkins Medicine at 1 Charles Center, 100 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21201, or call 410-516-6800. Contributions can be made online at


HBO film to be screened for Dunbar High School

Approximately 200 students and their teachers at Dunbar High will attend a screening today of Something the Lord Made. The event was arranged by the Johns Hopkins Office of Government, Community and Public Affairs.

After the screening, students will hear brief remarks by School of Medicine professor Peter Agre, co-recipient of the 2003 Nobel Prize in chemistry; David Nichols, vice dean for education at the School of Medicine; Terri Taylor, an alumna of the university's Graduate Training Program in Cellular and Molecular Medicine and a high school chemistry teacher; and Brad Sutton, a current medical student at Hopkins. All will field questions from the students.

Johns Hopkins and Dunbar High School have a history of working together. Since 1996, the Dunbar-Hopkins Health Partnership has provided advanced courses, training, mentoring, SAT preparation and health-related jobs and internships to more than 1,200 students. Many Dunbar graduates are now medical professionals, including a number who are practicing physicians. Dunbar High is also a professional development school where students at the Johns Hopkins School of Professional Studies in Business and Education and Morgan State University do their student teaching. The partnership is designed to improve the Dunbar students' performance through research-based instruction.

Screening for Johns Hopkins employees will take place in July during the week of celebrations for U.S. News & World Report's Best Hospital rankings.


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