Breakthrough!: How Three People Saved "Blue Babies" and Changed Medicine Forever

by Jim Murphy

The story of the 1944 development of an unprecedented surgical procedure that saved babies’ lives and paved the way for all types of open-heart surgery, created in large part by Vivienne Thomas, an African American lab assistant who was frequently mistaken for a janitor. By Newbery Honor– and Sibert Award–winner Jim Murphy. 


  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780358094258
  • ISBN-10: 0358094259
  • Pages: 144
  • Publication Date: 11/19/2019
  • Carton Quantity: 48

About the book

In 1944, a groundbreaking operation repaired the congenital heart defect known as blue baby syndrome. The operation’s success brought the surgeon Alfred Blalock international fame and paved the way for open-heart surgery. But the technique had been painstakingly developed by Vivien Thomas, Blalock’s African American lab assistant, who stood behind Blalock in the operating room to give him step-by-step instructions. 


The stories of this medical and social breakthrough and the lives of Thomas, Blalock, and their colleague Dr. Helen Taussig are intertwined in this compelling nonfiction narrative. 


About the author
Jim Murphy

Jim Murphy's nonfiction books have received numerous awards, among them two Newbery Honors, the Sibert Medal, three Orbis Pictus awards, the Margaret A. Edwards award, the James Madison Book Award, and a National Book Award nomination. Born and raised in New Jersey, Jim lives in Maplewood, NJ, with his family.


* "Murphy assembles a complicated set of facts, strip away the inessentials, and tells a memorable, moving story.

—Booklist, STARRED review 


* "Murphy’s dramatic nonfiction narrative recounting of one of the first open heart surgeries ever performed is not to be missed..." 

School Library Journal, STARRED review 


* "Murphy masterfully interweaves discussions of discrimination, the controversy over animal testing, and the background of each protagonist into the main narrative, building tension as he leads up to the surgery itself." 

—Publishers Weekly, STARRED review 


"A gripping look at a major medical breakthrough." 



“[T]he book’s clear and concise account offers a compelling picture of all that goes into medical — and societal — advances.” 

—Washington Post