Blue baby operation

Before 1944 babies who were born with cyanosis either died or lived with painful physical defects. Cyanosis is a condition of bluish skin caused by lack of oxygen in the blood. The plight of these "blue babies" aroused the interest of Dr. Helen Taussig of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. Taussig became head of that hospital's Children's Heart Clinic in the 1930s. After much pioneering fluoroscopy (using a fluorescent screen and X-ray transmissions to view internal structures) research, Taussig developed a theory that cyanosis was due to constriction (tightening) of the pulmonary artery. (The pulmonary artery carries oxygen-depleted bluish blood from the heart to the lungs. Once in the lungs, the blood absorbs oxygen and becomes red again). With this information, Taussig visited heart surgeon Robert Gross (1905-) of Boston, Massachusetts. Gross had developed an operation to close babies' blood vessels. Taussig was convinced that a reverse operation should be possible, one that would open a blocked blood vessel.

In 1941 Dr. Alfred Blalock (1899-1964) became chief of surgery at Johns Hopkins. Blalock had an excellent reputation as a vascular surgeon, and had conducted research in blood vessel bypass surgery. Taussig interested Blalock in her theory about cyanosis. Together they experimented on hundreds of dogs to perfect an operation in which a branch of the aorta is joined to the pulmonary artery. This creates a bypass of the defective portion and assures an adequate flow of blood to the lungs. In 1944, Blalock and Taussig performed the first "blue baby operation" on a 15-month-old girl. Two more successful operations followed. A paper by Taussig and Blalock reported the procedure in a 1945 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The operation these two surgeons performed became known as the "Blalock-Taussig Shunt." The procedure was soon widely adopted and saved thousands of babies' lives. Surgeons came to Johns Hopkins from around the world to learn the new procedure, and Blalock traveled abroad to further spread knowledge of the operation. This operative technique is still used today for very young children. It keeps them alive until they are old enough for open-heart surgery. A modified procedure using man-made material for the shunt was first performed in 1963. The Blalock-Taussig procedure was the beginning of the modern era of heart surgery. It paved the way for openheart surgery and surgical correction of many congenital heart defects.

[See also Artificial heart ; Angioplasty, balloon ; Barnard, Christiaan ]

User Contributions:

Michelle Del Valle
I am 25 years old and have had two shunt operations and open heart complete repair followed this year by a valve replacement.
I was diagnosed with TOF when I was two days old.
I am a living proof that these procedures work.
alicia parker
I think 80% credit it due to Dr. Vivien Thomas who assisted Dr. Blalock in this surgery. Dr. Taussig had no hands on experience with the FIRST blue baby syndrome operation. Please research and give credit where credit is due.
I agree with the young lady before me both those doctors had help and if is wasn't for Dr. Vivien Thomas and his idea of the shunt there would still be no temporary cure for this defect to this day.
This article sends a massage to all faith believing people,the essence of life attimes depends on individuals' views about GOD,what He can do,what His worth and the aspect of life clear to the recieving person.
I want to sincerely ask that part of the credit like others have said be given to Dr.Vivien Thomas, we all know why He dint get this for two reasons firstly due to racism and secondly his educational background. What matters most was his contribution towards the success of the surgery then, which today millions of surgeries of this kind are being done.
As an early recipient of this operation and open-heart surgery, in 1962, I was interested to read about Dr. Blalock in the book, Genius On the Edge, re: the life of Dr. William I will have to research Dr. Thomas, as well, thanks for the posts...they all saved MY life!!
It is very sad the way things were in those days. Dr. Vivien Thomas was the one who did get the idea on how to save the baby's life, and they gave him no credit for it. His recognition came many years later with a Doctorate and a portrait of himself in Johns Hopkins. Thank God he was alive to see it.
You forgot to mention Vivien Thomas! He was the one who performed hundreds of operations on dogs first! He then coached Blalock while he was performing the surgery! If it wasn't for racism, he would have been doing the surgeries himself. Lots of prominent black Americans have been robbed credit where it is due. Lots of prominent black Americans sit in the shadows of whites who have stolen their inventions and ideas. The history of our country is sad.
I agree the thomas was due credit, but i think that the reason it wasnt given is because at the time he wasnt a DR., its like a ER now, when a doctor saves your life, nobody thanks the MA or nurses
I was told i was born a blue baby in 19510 was sent to columbus o have my blood changed is this one of the things rget did my mother and father are both gone and any of my relatives that i cou;d ask . I am now 60 and have these questions . can anyone tell mew what could have happened?
I have the same background as you, born in 1950, parents said I was a blue baby. I am 61, and have no one to ask questions. I was never healty. Did you have your blood changed out?
I was told i was born a blue baby in 19510 was sent to columbus o have my blood changed is this one of the things rget did my mother and father are both gone and any of my relatives that i cou;d ask . I am now 60 and have these questions . can anyone tell mew what could have happened?

Dear MJ,
I would love to talk to you more about being born a blue blood. I hear quite a lot about that when I was young but now they have explanations that sound silly to explane that phinominon. I believe the truth is that blue bloods actually were born with a mixture of copper and iron baced blood and so had to have complete replacement in order to live. Its not that far fetched with everything were finding out now days.
I was born a blue baby in 1953 . In 1956, at the children's hospital in Los Angeles , they did open heart surgery on me . My blood type was never changed but there were donors used. My blood type is still the same today as it was when I was born ab+. I was told that I was 1 of the first 150 babies who had the surgery done at that time. They went through the back under the left shoulder blade to do this surgery. My parents were told I would live to up to my mid thirties if I never had kids , because of the stress chid bearing has on the heart, well I had 2 babies and I am now 60. What a blessing of the all the researchers of the past and present. I have always wanted them to know I exceeded their expectations !
I was born a blue baby in 1947 with congenital heart disease. they caught my problem at 6 months - I had open heart surgery at Childrens Hosp in Los Angeles in 1952 for a Patent Ductus Aterosis. The MD est told my parents to not let me be active - however the more active I was the better I felt.

My aunts and uncles supplied the blood. I have been exercising for 30+ years and today at 68 I am very active and weight train every 3 days - am taking final test for personal trainer.

Back then I feel that the MD estblis was not totally understand of the fact that the heart is a muscle and does need to be exercised.
Mary Andersen
I was born in 1955 in a small town in Indiana. Though I did not have a VSD I was as blue as any "blue baby". I was born with and ASD, pulmonary stenosis and right ventricular hypertrophy. As a result I suffer with pulmonary hypertension. I had the Blalock Taussig procedure performed at Riley Hospital in Indianapolis Indiana in 1958, a take down of the B-T procedure in 1962 with a opening of the pulmonary artery, and another pulmonary valvulotomy in 1965. My ASD was closed in 1984 because the shunt became too great. I am 62 years old, I have suffered three "functional" heart attacks, but married, had two children by C-Section, and suffer with atrial fibrillation which on occasion will not convert unless I am cardioverted. I am an RN, have a Masters degree, work full time, have children and grandchildren that keep me busy outside of the hospital. I rode my Trek 1000 across Missouri on the Katy Trail several years ago and continue to ride to this day. I get very tired during exercise but it does not stop me from doing what is good for my heart. I owe everything to Vivian Thomas, Blalock, and the doctors at Riley Hospital for Children and my parents who let me set my own pace!
JoAnn Kulberg
As a blue baby born in 1949, I had surgery for coroatition of the aorta in 1959. The surgery was done succefully by Dr, Gross at Boston Children's,and I am eagerto hear from anyone else who has had a like experiece in those early days. Are there any journals, logs, books that coulsd give me any information on pederitc heart surgery in the n1950's.
Graham Macpherson
I was born a blue baby in 1959 in a rural hospital in South Australia. The scar on the inside of my right ankle was where my parents told me the doctors performed the transfusion. As my chest was severely scolded when I was 6 months old any scars from any operation are definitely not visible.
I am guessing maybe the procedures had changed in the interum.Who kniws what happens now.
Anette C De Baca
I’m interested learning more about the surgery that was performed in 1963, because my husband Kory was born with a heart defect, and was operated on when he was twenty-one days old and again at four months. At four months old he had open heart surgery at UCLA.

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic:

Blue Baby Operation forum