It seems like the perfect day to begin posting since I received from my editor the first copy of Tiny Stitches – The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas. It’s a picture book biography illustrated by the award winning Colin Bootman. Tiny Stitches tells the story of Vivien Thomas, an African American man who lost his college savings during the Great Depression. Instead, Vivien worked in the research lab under Dr. Alfred Blalock at Vanderbilt University. Dr. Blalock quickly realized Vivien was brilliant and guided him through medical procedures and laboratory techniques. Vivien accompanied Dr. Blalock to Johns Hopkins University Medical School where they continued their research. The project that captivated the medical profession and parents all over the world was Vivien’s surgical technique that allowed doctors to operate on babies born with tetralogy of Fallot or blue babies in 1944. I began researching Tiny Stitches in 2010. Six years ago. Six years from idea to book. That’s a long time. During those years, I never doubted its future. When I did feel a little down, family and friends pulled me back up. I don’t have a release date yet, but it will be in May or June. Then I can show it off to the world! In the meantime, I plan to post about my six year journey. I will tell the story behind the idea. I’ll share fascinating facts I uncovered while researching, but never made it into the book. Actually, some did, but were cut along the journey. So don’t miss a post.
One thing a writer looks forward to with mixed feelings are reviews. You want all the critics to love your work. You’re convinced your book is perfect and the review should reflect that perfection. Your fingers and toes are crossed and locked in place waiting for your editor to email the link. You stare at it, curser hovering. You tell yourself to grow up and CLICK. I lived through that scenario a few weeks ago when I received the Kirkus Reviews link for Tiny Stitches – The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas. I forced myself to click and read the review. I read it several times. I can probably recite it for you. It was a great review. Read it yourself—just click. Sometimes when I talk about Vivien Thomas people assume Vivien is female. It is a name usually associated with girls. Vivien explains it in his autobiography, Partners of the Heart: Vivien Thomas and His Work with Alfred Blalock: An Autobiography. He said his parents expected a girl and chose the name Vivian. After he was born, his parents, Mary and William Thomas decided to keep the name because they liked it. They simply changed the a to an e.
In the midst of writing Tiny Stitches – The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas, I had the opportunity to visit Baltimore, Maryland. I wondered about Vivien’s first look at the dome that crowns the original hospital. In his autobiography, Partners of the Heart-Vivien Thomas and His Work with Alfred Blalock, Vivien recalls thinking, “So this is Hopkins, the great Johns Hopkins, of which I have been hearing as long as I can remember.” Today the building houses the administration offices. Originally, doctors-in-training lived in the dome. They were “residents.” The dome is so beautiful, I could have spent all day gazing up at it. But it wasn’t a practical plan. First, July in Baltimore is extremely hot and second, my neck might have become permanently bent. I moved on to my next stop, Vivien’s portrait. I couldn’t leave without studying the portrait the Old Hands Club commissioned. Members of the Old Hands Club were once residents at Johns Hopkins and studied surgical techniques under Vivien. The portrait hangs directly across the room from Dr. Alfred Blalock’s portrait in the new Johns Hopkins Hospital. As I looked into his eyes, I imagined he said to me, “Thank you for sharing my story.” An African American family walking by with their two young sons stopped and asked me about the man in the portrait. I happily shared Vivien’s life and accomplishments. They had no idea of Vivien’s contributions to medicine, tetralogy of Fallot and world. I saw looks of amazement and pride cross their faces. They left with broad smiles and extra pride in their steps. Vivien had that effect on people. More Information Pictures about Johns Hopkins, the man and his dome Vivien Thomas’ portrait