Partners of the Heart: Dr. Helen B. Taussig

January 24, 2012

Born in 1898, Dr. Helen Taussig, a late deafened physician scientist, pioneered the medical specialty of pediatric cardiology with her role in the development of the surgical technique known as the Blalock-Thomas-Taussig shunt. Dr. Taussig, being profoundly deaf, employed lip reading in order to communicate with her patients and used only her fingers to assess heart rhythms. In addition to being deaf, Dr. Taussig was dyslexic and had extraordinary difficulty reading. Despite her handicaps, Dr. Taussig earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley before pursuing graduate studies at Harvard School of Medicine and Boston University. Dr. Taussig completed her postgraduate research in cardiology at Johns Hopkins where she also played vital roles in the first successful heart surgery ever performed and the surgical palliation of Tetrology of Fallot (Blue Baby Syndrome) with her involvement in the development of the surgical technique, Blalock-Thomas-Taussig shunt. Dr. Taussig became deaf midway through her postgraduate work. In 1944, Dr. Helen B. Taussig, along with Drs. Alfred Blalock and Vivien Thomas, performed the first Blalock-Thomas-Taussig shunt on an Eleven month old infant suffering from Blue Baby Syndrome, successfully saving the infant’s life.

In 1954, Dr. Taussig was awarded the prestigious Lasker Award for her involvement in the groundbreaking Blue Baby operation. By 1959, Dr. Taussig became one of the first women and the first deaf person to be granted a full professorship at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Taussig became both the first woman president and the first deaf president of the American Heart Association. The year prior to her election as president of the AHA in 1965, Dr. Taussig was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964. In 2005, Johns Hopkins University named one of its four colleges in her honor. The Helen B. Taussig Children’s Pediatric Cardiac Center was also named in her honor by Johns Hopkins years prior.

In 1963, Dr. Taussig retired from her work in the medical profession at the age of sixty-four before passing away thirteen years later on May 20th, 1986 at the age of eighty-seven. Dr. Taussig died on impact in an automotive collision only days before what would have been her eighty-eighth birthday.

Dr. Taussig’s portrait remains hung on the walls of Johns Hopkins University to this day and her legacy and lifework continues to inspire many.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: