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Review of Breakthrough! How Three People Saved “Blue Babies” and Changed Medicine Forever

murphy_breakthroughstar2 Breakthrough! How Three People Saved “Blue Babies” and Changed Medicine Forever
by Jim Murphy
Intermediate, Middle School   Clarion   128 pp.
12/15   978-0-547-82183-2   $18.99   g

Murphy (An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793, rev. 7/03; Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never-Ending Search for a Cure, rev. 7/12) here again focuses on the history of science and medicine. “Blue baby syndrome,” the result of a congenital heart condition, was a significant medical problem in WWII-era America: it killed seventy percent of affected children by the age of ten. This is the story of the Johns Hopkins University medical team that researched and solved the problem, culminating in the first successful 
operation on a critically ill infant. Dr. Alfred Blalock had already made a 
name for himself with his pioneering research on the causes and treatment of shock, and pediatrician Helen Taussig was the worldwide expert on congenital 
heart problems, despite being a woman in a male-dominated field. The final member — and arguably the most crucial one — was Vivien Thomas, Blalock’s African American lab assistant, who developed and refined the surgical procedure. The synthesis of their stories is illuminating, serving also as a commentary on the social status of women and minorities in the mid-twentieth century. If the biographical vignettes interrupt the narrative occasionally, the inherent suspense and drama make up for it. Numerous black-and-white photographs are incorporated into the main narrative, while sources notes, a bibliography, and an index (unseen) are appended.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the coordinator of library media services at the San Diego County Office of Education.

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