The techniques for heart surgery were invented by a black man who began his surgical research career as a nineteen year old. His whose job experience was carpentry and working as an orderly in an infirmary. Because few people had attempted heart surgery before, this black man with only a high school education invented instruments to make heart surgery possible. Some of his instruments are still used in operating rooms today. Vivien Thomas (yes, Vivien Thomas was a man) grew up in a low income household. Vivien himself received a janitor’s wages from Vanderbilt University while he was working as a surgical research technician. In the 1930s, Vanderbilt paid all black males janitor wages no matter what kind of work they did.
Let’s play a little It’s A Wonderful Life, that Jimmy Stewart movie where the main character learns what the world would have been like if he had never lived. What if Vivien Thomas had grown up with inadequate food, inadequate health care, and inadequate education? What if all of those inadequacies made Vivien Thomas unable to fulfill his potential of inventing the techniques and instruments for heart surgery? Vivien Thomas’s wages were so low that he considered switching jobs to better support his family. What if his inadequate pay forced him to stop working on the techniques for heart surgery and go back to carpentry? How many people in your life (you?) would be dead or never born if Vivien Thomas had been unable to invent the first techniques and instruments for heart surgery?
Someone else would have invented the techniques for heart surgery eventually, but it could have been decades later. Heart surgery would not be what it is today, so more people would have died instead of being saved. If your family has a history of heart problems, you might not have been born.
What if a child who could have grown up to develop the cure for multiple sclerosis did not develop the cure because inadequate food, inadequate health care, or inadequate education prevented the fulfillment of his or her potential?
If Mitt Romney would share some of his millions to make sure children of all colors had adequate food, adequate health care, and adequate education, perhaps one of those children would grow up to develop the cure that would give Ann Romney her health back. Mitt and Ann should hope that it’s not too late for the cure to be discovered in their lifetimes. Keeping money in offshore accounts doesn’t seem to have done much for Ann’s health.
Mitt has to hope his wealthy peers are generous with their money as well so the door opens wide enough for that particular child to walk through. We cannot assume that child has been or will be born in the United States. Vivien Thomas was born in New Iberia, Louisiana where he went to elementary school. He attended high school in Nashville, Tennessee. No one could have decided that the black children of New Iberia, Louisiana and Nashville, Tennessee should have all of their needs satisfied to make sure one child could grow up to invent the techniques and instruments for heart surgery. No one can look anywhere in the country or the world to decide that one particular group of children should have all of their needs satisfied so that one child could grow up to develop the cure for MS.
And while the open door would let that child through, it would also let through children who have the potential to grow up and improve lives in all kinds of ways. What other health problems plague your family?
If you focus on money, all you get is money. If you focus on creating opportunities, you receive the benefits of those opportunities. Why hasn’t Mitt Romney figured this out? Because he was too busy thinking up reasons to justify his claim that 47% of Americans don’t “take personal responsibility” or “care for their lives”?
“In Search of Vivien Thomas”
Damon M. Kennedy, DO
Texas Heart Institute Journal
January 2005; 32(4): pages 477-478
“The Real Truth Behind The 47 Percent – Why Aren’t Those People Paying Federal Income Taxes?”
September 19, 2012
Paula M. Kramer
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