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.