Laura The other day—thanks to dogpark-friend Ingrid—we watched a DVD of an HBO TV movie a few years old called Something the Lord Made. Despite the cringe-inducing title, it’s the fascinating (nonreligious) story of the relationship between Dr. Alfred Blalock, the doctor who helped develop a revolutionary surgical cure for “blue babies”, and Vivien Thomas, his black surgical assistant. Thomas—a carpenter’s assistant with only a high-school education—started working for Blalock in Nashville as a labratory assistant during the Depression. His intelligence and abilities were so manifest that before long he was performing delicate surgeries on animals and aiding Blalock in innumerable ways. Blalock considered Thomas so indispensable to his work that he refused to take up the post as head surgeon at Johns Hopkins unless Thomas came along as well. When Blalock performed the groundbreaking pulmonary bypass surgeries that now bear his name, he insisted Thomas stand on a bench just behind his shoulder so he could whisper guidance and advice on how to proceed. Due to his surgical chops Thomas also trained many (later well-known) surgeons over the years.

Due to the prevalent racism of the time (as well as denegration of non-doctors), Thomas didn’t receive recognition for his pioneering work until the 1960s. Eventually he was recognized by being elevated to the medical faculty with the title of “Instructor of Surgery”. He also received an honourary doctorate and a portrait in the main foyer (which was usually the privilege of medical bigwigs.)

The movie is well-worth seeing, and the cast of Alan Rickman and Mos Def sure doesn’t hurt!

Since it was such an interesting story, we looked at the DVD’s special features, one of which was a slideshow of historical photos of the story’s participants. One of these was a dog named Anna, who was the first being to have the pulmonary bypass surgery performed on her and survive. She ended up living a long and happy life as a beloved pet in the hospital. Anna even got a portrait as well. What took us aback was Anna’s resemblance to someone we know:

Anna and Photon
A painting of Anna at left; Photon at right. Right down to the ears!
Painting from the Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives of The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions

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  1. ingrid izzard says:

    My god, the ears! I had no idea Photon came from such an illustrious pedigree…

  2. David "Barkerphile" Barker says:

    I once was going into the main entrance of what was then the Metro Reference Library (Toronto’s main library, just north of Yonge and Bloor) and I saw a lady sitting on a bench with a dog at her feet. I looked at the dog and immediately thought, ‘My god, she looks just like Laika!’ Well, I went up to the lady and asked her if I could say Hello to the dog (as one should always do with strange dogs) and she said, in a Russian accent, “Yes, her name is Laika.” She claimed the dog was the famous Laika’s great-great-etc granddaughter. I had no way to confirm that, of course, but the resemblance was uncanny (perhaps too uncanny, and she was just exploiting it) and the surface coincidence of the dog’s appearance and the Russian woman made it all the more interestingly eerie.

  3. Agnes "Huggo's servant" says:

    Wow…that’s an uncanny resemblance! Is Photon Anna’s evil twin??

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