Many of you are on my Facebook page so you have gotten updates all along the way, but for those of you who aren’t on Facebook… here is what has been going on. My dad had to have a valve in his heart replaced last Thursday. Because of his history we had to go to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore for the procedure. His operation was last Thursday morning and everything has gone amazingly well. It will still probably be another week before he and my mom come back to Tallahassee, but we are already seeing a lot of improvements in dad’s health.
I had always known that my dad had been born with a heart problem and had surgery when he was a baby, but until this trip I never truly understood how revolutionary it all was and how hard my grandparents fought for him. When he was born he was called a “blue baby”. His heart had a hole in it between the chambers that did not allow the oxygenated blood to circulate well enough. This type of heart defect caused the babies to have a blue color, like when you hold your breath WAY too long. For babies born in 1942, this meant they would certainly die before the age of 10, many before the age of three.
At Johns Hopkins, the head of pediatrics, Dr. Taussig, went to Dr. Blalock and his lab assistant Vivien Thomas to encourage them to find a way to save these babies. At this point, no surgeon had ever performed open heart surgery. They created a procedure which takes a vein from the leg and bypasses the problem in the heart. After Vivien Thomas perfected the operation on dogs they had enough confidence to operate on a person. In November 1944, they performed the first open heart surgery on a little girl who had the same condition my dad did. When my grandmother heard the news she got on the phone until she was able to speak with Dr. Taussig and convince her that my dad needed this surgery.
In 1945, my grandparents took my three year old father to Johns Hopkins and he became the 13th person in the world to have open heart surgery. The surgeries that they performed at Johns Hopkins on babies like my dad was the beginning of all cardiac surgery. From what we can find out, of those first babies, my dad is the last surviving. He has now had a total of four heart surgeries, with three of them being at Johns Hopkins. I am so thankful for the amazing surgeons and visionaries at JHH and also for my stubborn, never yielding Italian grandmother for fighting for her son. I knew much of this story before my trip, but seeing the amazement of the residents, the head of cardiac surgery, etc. it really hit me how special it all was. 🙂