Field Manual: History


  The history of pediatric congenital heart surgery starts in the 1940s at Johns Hopkins University, the University of Minnesota, and Yale University and picks up speed in the 1950s with Johns Hopkins’ Dr. Alfred Blalock, Vivien Thomas (a genius lab technician), Dr. Helen Taussig. Their Blalock-Taussig (BT) Shunt has saved tens of thousands of lives.

In the 1980s at Boston Children’s and later Children’s of Philadelphia and Nemours, Dr. William Norwood invented and refined the eponymous procedure that would make Liam’s life remotely possible. Damus, Kaye, and Stansel would adapt Norwood’s work to children like Liam who were not actual Hypoplastic Left Heart patients, but not really BT Shunt only candidates. It’s a rare subset, but part of a larger collective that sees about 6/1000 babies born missing major heart structures[1].

The early variations of the BT Shunt and Norwood surgeries were highly fatal, but the children who endured them and the parents who consented to them had no other choice but death. Those children were absolutely dying, and those doctors were their only hope.

Over time, the courage and sacrifices of those Post-war American families and families in France, where the Fontan operation was being developed, made it possible for my son and thousands more to not only survive, but thrive and live amazing and full lives.

Dr. Glenn added to the mix by staging the Fontan procedure into two separate surgeries to spare the patient the shock of a full diversion of blood flow all at once. Talented surgeons since Blalock, Norwood, Fontan, Stansel, and Glenn have added to the success of the surgical intervention not only for hypoplasts but for children with atrial, ventricular, valvular, and other structural defects of the cardiovascular system. Doctors like Starnes, Lacour-Gayet, Fraser, Mee, Hanley, Burke and a handful of others of their caliber in places like Boston, Philadelphia, Ann Arbor, and San Francisco have inverted a 90% mortality rate year over year for kids like Liam.

I recommend visiting the Johns Hopkins Medical History and the Yale University web sites site (Google it for most current versions) to learn about the earliest days of CHD treatments and the visionaries who gave Liam and so many other the gift of hope.

[1] Hoffman and Kaplan, Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 2002; 39:1890-1900

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