During the racial divide when blacks sat at the back of the bus, Vivien Thomas is a young black man hired by a white doctor, Dr. Blalock to clean the research lab. Blalock recognizes Thomas’ talent and passion for medical work at the same time a friendship develops. Thomas’ dream is to become a doctor, but it gets waylaid by the bank crash, and the time needed to investigate new medical procedures. After months of operating on dogs to find a solution for shock, the answer arrived. Thomas crafted the needed equipment, and his surgical skill caused Blalock to exclaim “like something the Lord made.” This success carried them to John Hopkins where Blalock saw the babies with heart defects, causing them to be blue. Doctors in that era were trained “do not touch the heart” But Blalock and Thomas carried on more operations on dogs seeking a way to help the blue babies.
The racial divide still tested their friendship, but when Thomas snuck as a busboy into the hotel convention room during Blalock’s speech about the heart operation’s success, he discovered Blalock didn’t publicly recognize Thomas’ critical efforts in saving the baby’s life. Thomas had been in the operating room during that operation and saved the baby just as much as Blalock did. Now 35 years old, Thomas discovered no school would accept his lab and surgical experience toward becoming a doctor.
After much grief and lack of interest in doing anything else, he went back to Blalock to try again. His innovation was still not recognized until after Blalock died. When the John Hopkins faculty came together when Thomas was an old man and handed him an honorary doctor, I cheered! When they honored him with a painted portrait so that Thomas’ image would be on the same wall as all the other doctors with great importance, I almost cried.
There’s so much packed into this movie, but it also challenged me to think of stories of excellence overcoming things that divide people. I love this message, and it helps me to keep pressing on into my passion where God leads me.