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Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas Hardcover – May 15, 2016
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From School Library Journal
Gr 2–5—A picture book biography about the genius and research of Vivien Thomas, who pioneered open-heart surgery for infants, specifically to treat newborns afflicted with tetralogy of Fallot, or blue baby syndrome, a previously fatal condition. Trained as a carpenter and working alongside his father by age 13, Thomas dreamed of going to college. After losing his savings in the October 1929 stock market crash, Thomas accepted a job at Vanderbilt University as a research technician under Dr. Alfred Blalock. Expressive watercolor illustrations depict Thomas's dedication. He is shown practicing techniques, working in the lab, and researching in the library. The narrative covers many examples of the racism that Thomas faced, including less pay, housing discrimination, and the press's failure to acknowledge his development of what was later named the Blalock-Taussig shunt. By focusing on the enormous talent and skill of Thomas and depicting instances in which he was dismissed by white coworkers and by the media, the text is an insight into not only this innovator's life but the social and institutional conditions that allow for African American contributions in medicine and science to go largely unrecognized. Extensive author's notes provide more information about tetralogy of Fallot and about Thomas himself. VERDICT An important addition for STEM or biography collections for its exceptional coverage.—Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, St. Christopher's School, Richmond, VA
Vivien Thomas (1910 1985) combined imagination, skilled dexterity, and hard-won medical knowledge to develop tools and techniques for successful open heart surgery on babies. His life and work are vivid in the pages of this picture book biography, in which Hooks details how his youthful work in fine carpentry, paired with his desire to become a doctor, propelled Thomas in his pursuit of his goals. In addition to the challenges facing any medical researcher, Thomas also endured such obstacles as the economic devastation of the Great Depression, unequal treatment as a black research assistant, the challenge of finding housing in the Jim Crow South, and the failure to be recognized for his monumental contributions to the field of neonatal heart surgery. It is the work Thomas achieved, however, in spite of these enormous challenges, that will pique reader interest as they learn about his design of tiny operating tools and his role guiding surgeons through neonatal operations. Bootman s lifelike watercolor illustrations beautifully and vividly evoke the carpentry shop, research labs, and auditorium where, years later, Thomas was finally honored for his work and appointed to the faculty at Johns Hopkins. Beyond the crucial message of perseverance and spotlight on prejudiced attitudes that still resonate today, this middle-grade picture book illuminates the life of little-known man whose innovations continue to be essential to modern medicine. --Booklist, starred review
Tiny Stitches Review By Kirkus Reviews Hooks (The Noisy Night, 2014, etc.) and Bootman (Hey, Charleston!, 2013, etc.) illuminate the trials and triumphs of Vivien Thomas and his vital role in the development of children's open-heart surgery. Unable to attend medical school due to the Great Depression, Vivien (as Hooks styles him) takes a job as a research assistant at Vanderbilt University under Dr. Alfred Blalock, who is so impressed with Vivien's surgical skill that he insists Vivien accompany him when he accepts a new position at Johns Hopkins in 1941. Despite the constant prejudice of the segregated hospital, Vivien researches and designs an operation to correct the fatal child heart defect known as "blue babies" syndrome an operation that would come to save thousands of children's lives and for which Vivien himself can only serve as a coach because only white staff may perform surgery. After more than 26 years without public recognition for his revolutionary contributions, Vivien receives an honorary doctorate in 1976, realizing his dream at last. Told candidly with a touch of gravitas, Vivien's story deftly presents complex social and medical issues along with the gently insistent message of perseverance. Bootman's full-page watercolors and muted palette gracefully bring emotional life to Vivien's personal and clinical scenes alike never has hospital green been so poignant. A good alternative to dense, chapter biographies and a rousing tribute to a man unjustly forgotten. (notes, glossary, references) --Kirkus Reviews
Vivien Thomas had long strived to become a doctor, but after losing his college savings in the stock market crash of 1929, he instead took a job as a research technician at Vanderbilt University. As an African-American, Thomas s title was officially janitor. Despite persistent racial prejudice, Thomas devised a means to perform open-heart surgery on blue babies who were not getting enough oxygen, a procedure that would save the lives of many infants. Hooks writes with vivid detail and immediacy, describing Thomas s anxiety as he coaches Dr. Blalock, the doctor who originally hired him, on performing the first surgery. Bootman s subdued watercolors channel the sobering climate of Depression-era America in a sensitive portrayal of a little-recognized medical pioneer. --Publishers Weekly
Top customer reviews
Hooks has crafted an engaging story of scientific discovery and perseverance, and Bootman's evocative watercolors add poignancy to this heartfelt tale. Young readers will be drawn in by moments of rising tension, as Vivien confronts and overcomes discrimination. Readers will also get insight into how scientific discovery works, from the idea, to experimentation and finally to practice. Tiny Stitches is an important book about a forgotten hero that deserves space in all public and school libraries, and would make a great addition to any STEM curriculum.
The spare language mirrors Vivien Thomas’s elegantly simple solution to a complex problem, and it tells an important story that must be shared. As a reading teacher, I see so many rich discussion topics—how banks have changed because of the Great Depression, the prickly question of research on animals, injustice and changing attitudes, and seeing the potential in every human.
Imagine if Vivien Thomas hadn’t had the chance to do the research he did.
The surgery he developed is still being used today. It saved our granddaughter's life in 2003.
From all the children with SPECIAL HEARTS...wear your battle scars proudly. Each scar is proof that "you are stronger than what tried to hurt you" (author unknown), THANK YOU, DR. THOMAS!
While serving on the nonfiction panel for Cybils awards I read TINY STITCHES: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas. Medical progress since the 1920s is impressive on countless fronts, and many individuals deserve credit. In this picture book the author, Gwendolyn Hudson Hooks, reveals the overlooked life of Vivien Thomas. His childhood dream of becoming a doctor was a daring one for an African American at that time in history. He was derailed from his quest after only a year of college by the financial crash of the Depression.
Thomas found work in a Johns Hopkins medical laboratory, eventually becoming a surgical assistant to a noted heart surgeon. He transferred his desire to become a doctor to dedicating himself to developing procedures and adapting techniques and tools specific to serving the youngest patients. His devices and processes were capable of performing corrective heart surgery for the tiniest hearts of all, those of blue babies. Surgeries previously thought to be impossible.
With direct and descriptive narrative, Hooks reflects the purposeful and steady approach Thomas took toward this goal and others throughout his professional life. Because he lacked a medical degree he wasn't allowed to perform the surgeries himself. He stood at the elbow of others, guiding them in the live-saving techniques that came too late to save my Aunt Rosemary. His race reinforced many limitations, but eventually he was recognized for his life-saving innovations.
Colin Bootman's illustrations complement the text perfectly, conveying the intensity and dedication Thomas demonstrated throughout his career. They also portray a realistic view of medical settings, including laboratories and operating theaters. The angles and perspectives within various page spreads show Thomas in relation to others. Those perspectives and expressions tell a story in themselves about both the credit and the dismissive attitudes he dealt with throughout his career.
The good news is that he was eventually awarded an honorary medical degree, joined the faculty of Johns Hopkins Medical College, and is credited with his role in the development of materials, techniques, and care that saves lives on a daily basis around the world. Today the vast majority of infants born with heart defects can be treated successfully and go on to live full and healthy lives.