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HBO Movie Tells Story of Two Hopkins Breakthroughs: One Medical, One Interracial

Johns Hopkins Medicine
Office of Communications and Public Affairs
Media Contact:  Gary Stephenson

April 28, 2004


HBO'S new movie, Something The Lord Made, starring Alan Rickman, Mos Def, Mary Stuart Masterson, Kyra Sedgwick and Charles Dutton, tells the moving story of an unusual partnership at The Johns Hopkins Hospital between one of the nation's pioneering surgeons, Alfred Blalock, and his young African-American lab assistant, Vivien Thomas. Coming of age in different worlds, they nevertheless forged a poignant and sometimes stormy relationship to develop the so-called Blue Baby operation and usher in a golden age of heart surgery.  The Blue Baby operation, which surgically corrected a congenital defect of the heart known as the Tetralogy of Fallot, broke the last barrier to operating directly on the heart, long considered taboo and an impossibility. 

Something The Lord Made (, captures the tension inherent in defying the medical establishment and the social establishment of the mid-1900s, which demanded clear separation between the races.  But Thomas, denied a chance to become a doctor by the Great Depression, proved that genius, persistence and ability transcend artificially imposed barriers.  A carpenter, he largely taught himself the skills that led him to become Blalock's right-hand person. Together, and with the help of famed colleagues such as Helen Taussig, they changed medical history.

Johns Hopkins Medicine, HBO, COMCAST and the Honorable Elijah Cummings, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, will host the Baltimore area premier of Something The Lord Made on May 18 at the Senator Theater at 7:30 p.m.  A private reception at 6 p.m. at the Senator will precede the screening.  The movie will air on HBO on May 30, 2004, at 9 p.m.  Premiers also will be held in New York City and Los Angeles.  On hand with cast members at the Baltimore premier will be several of the doctors who worked with Blalock, Thomas and Taussig and who still are associated with Hopkins. 

The premier showing is expected to be a full house.  Press wanting to attend should reserve seats well in advance. To do so, contact Gary Stephenson at 410-955-5384, cell at 443-324-6726, pager at 410-283-4991, or e-mail at:

The Hopkins of today is not the Hopkins of the 1940s: Some of the most renowned African-American surgeons in the world are at Hopkins, including Ben Carson, the pediatric neurosurgeon widely known for his operations to end crippling seizures; cardiac surgeon Levi Watkins, who, in 1980, became the first physician to insert an automatic implantable defibrillator (developed at Hopkins) into a patient; Claudia Thomas, the first African-American female orthopedic surgeon in the nation, and trauma surgeon Edward Cornwell, whose efforts on behalf of violence prevention programs have matched his ability to save youthful victims of  violence. Julie Freischlag, appointed chief of the Hopkins Department of Surgery in 2003, is the first woman to serve as a chief of surgery in the elite medical schools of the nation.  Last year, 47 Hopkins medical students out of a class of 116 were females; 13 were African-American, 24 were Asian, and 5 were Hispanic. 

As the birthplace of cardiac surgery, Hopkins continues to build on this legacy of discovery and innovation. Stories you may want to pursue in conjunction with the HBO film's debut:

• Cardiologist Joshua Hare is using stem cells to repair damaged hearts in animals, a first step toward developing a therapeutic innovation with the potential to revolutionize the approach to cardiac care.

• John Conte is one of only a handful of physicians performing a new procedure - ventricular restoration - on patients with congestive heart failure.  By surgically removing heart tissue that no longer functions and remodeling the main pumping chamber of the heart, he is offering patients an alternative to heart transplants or mechanical support devices.

• Cardiologists are using a state-of-the-art CT scanner to perform coronary angiography in a way that is much less invasive to the patient but still provides the diagnostic information clinicians need to assess heart function. Best of all, the CT study can be performed in only 10 minutes, at a greatly reduced cost, and with less risk to patients.

• Pediatric cardiologists are using sophisticated imaging equipment to detect cardiac defects in babies prior to their birth. At birth, the infants can be operated on immediately.

• Hopkins cardiologists, the first to operate on the human heart, are now developing techniques to avoid operating on the open heart. For example, pediatric cardiologists are using cardiac catheterization to repair holes in the septum (atrial septal defect) in the hearts of children using a synthetic patch placed over the hole by a catheter inserted into the heart via the leg. The patients are able to return home after only a few days versus the weeks of inpatient hospitalization required by conventional open-heart surgery.

• Using sophisticated robots, Hopkins surgeons are able to place pacemaker defibrillator leads in patients using much smaller incisions than used in conventional techniques.

From initiatives in diversity to innovations in research, education and treatment, Hopkins continues to build on its more than 100-year-old legacy. To learn more about Hopkins' role in the HBO film Something the Lord Made or to cover any of the story ideas above, contact Gary Stephenson at 410-955-5384, cell at 443-324-6726, pager at 410-283-4991, or e-mail at