Black inventors: Part Two


AFTER Benjamin Banneker there came several more black people who had notable intellectual achievements.
One of the most remembered of these was George Washington Carver.
He is most remembered for introducing peanut butter to the USA.
Another notable black intellectual was Vivien Thomas.
This particular individual had only received a high school education, but would be involved in the surgical achievement of healing an illness called blue baby syndrome.
This disease affected babies hearts and was named blue baby syndrome because it turned the white children blue due to lack of blood supply.
Vivien was a skilled carpenter who had been taught carpentry by his father.
His grandfather was the first generation to be freed from slavery in their family. Vivien was always interested in being a doctor, but he lacked the financial capacity to pursue his goal.
However, he read as much medical literature as he could and he spent seven years saving money to attend medical school.
His plan failed when the USA’s economy went through a depression and he and many other Americans, lost their money through bank closures.
Then he got an opportunity to work for a white doctor and surgeon called Albert Blalock as a lab technician on account of his skills in carpentry.
Dr Blalock noticed that Vivien would always finish the work early in order to read the collection of medical books in the laboratory.
He soon discovered that Vivien had mastered all the basic knowledge of medicine and could name all the medical utensils in the lab off his head.
Before long Vivien became Dr Blalock’s unofficial assistant and he never sought another qualified doctor to be his personal assistant from that point on.
Vivien was a fast learner and made a lot of groundbreaking discoveries in working with Dr Blalock.
For example, Vivien instead of using instruments known as smoked drums to record the lab experiments; he would draw diagrams by hand and write organised notes.
Vivien’s way of recording experiments has overtaken the smoke drums method even to this day.
The blue baby syndrome treatment was carried out when Dr Blalock was invited to work at John Hopkins University which was the top medical university in the USA at that time.
Vivien was honoured when Dr Blalock had refused to go and work in Detroit because his assistant was black.
Dr Blalock decided to treat the blue baby syndrome by way of heart surgery.
It is important to note that the first ever successful open heart surgery was done by a black man called William Daniels.
Because the heart is the most sensitive part of the human body, the surgeons of that time had made it an unwritten law that heart surgery is not possible and should not be done.
However, Dr Blalock was confident that the problem could be fixed by way of fixing arteries to simply increase blood supply in the blue babies.
Dr Blalock and Vivien began making experiments on dogs.
The first task was to recreate the blue baby syndrome in the dogs.
It was Vivien who achieved this task and explained how the condition can be recreated in the dogs.
It would cause the dogs to have blue gums and symptoms similar to the children affected by the disease.
In trying to cure the disease, Vivien contributed a lot and he revolutionised some stitching techniques.
The stitches that he made seemed as if they were the original flesh as made by God. He also modified the traditional utensils so as to be appropriate for the delicate heart.
For example, he rubberised some of them and made others bend in a particular way.
The ultimate answer to the treatment of blue baby syndrome in dogs and later humans came to Vivien by way of a dream.
Eventually, it was Vivien who had full understanding of the operation and would usually have to guide and correct Dr Blalock through the operation.
When it was time to perform the operation on humans, Dr Blalock was assisted by white professional doctors and Vivien was not invited as though he was officially only a lab technician.
However, Dr Blalock knew deep inside that Vivien was the man behind this specific operation and he could not begin the operation without him.
Vivien was called and was made to stand on a stool so as to guide the doctors who were all white.
The operation was successful but all the credit was given to Dr Blalock and his white assistants during the first operation.
Doctors, medical scholars and blue baby syndrome patients from around the world started coming to John Hopkins and Vivien’s name was never mentioned.
Feeling unappreciated, he left Dr Blalock’s lab, but he would return after a few years so as to follow his passion in medicine.
Vivien worked diligently with Dr Blalock until they were both very old at John Hopkins University.
After Dr Blalock’s death, Vivien Thomas was finally honoured with an honorary doctorate.
A portrait of Dr Vivien Thomas’s likeness can still be found in John Hopkins University right next to that of Dr Blalock’s.
There are several cases of black Americans making great achievements in higher education.
The first ever blackman to receive a PhD in the USA was Edward Bouchet.
He received a PhD in Physics at Yale University in 1876.
Charles Henry Turner was the first blackman to receive a PhD in Chicago.
He was the man who proved that insects could hear and distinguish pitch, and that bees can see colour.
A blackman called Lloyd Noel Ferguson was the first to ever receive a Chemistry doctorate at the University of California Berkley in 1943.
Similarly, a black woman called Marie Maynard Daly was the first black woman to earn a PhD in Chemistry in the USA.
Clarence Skip Ellis was the first blackman in the USA to receive a PhD in Computer sciences.
He also invented several computer software including Office Talk and Xerox PARC.
By far one of the most impressive black scholars in America was Ernest J Wilkins Jr.
This man attended the University of Chicago at the tender age of 13.
By the age of 19, Ernest had earned a PhD.
He became a nuclear scientist and he wrote numerous articles on science.
He is also remembered for helping recruit blacks, and also other minorities into studying the sciences.


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