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Suggested to Answers to
Comprehension Test/Homework Assignment to
Something the Lord Made and Partners of the Heart


There are 25 questions (at four points each) suggested for classes that have seen "Something the Lord Made" and 19 Questions (at five points each) for classes that have watched "Partners of the Heart". For versions of the test/assignment suitable to be passed out to students, see Something the Lord Made Comprehension Test/Homework Assignment and Partners of the Heart Comprehension Test/Homework Assignment. The information covered in this test/homework assignment is contained in the Helpful Background section and the movies. This web page serves as the answer key for the test/homework assignment.

Comprehension Test/Homework Assignment

1.  Describe the two reasons why Mr. Thomas operated on the hearts of dogs in Dr. Blalock's research laboratory when he was preparing for the blue baby operations. Suggested Response: To recreate heart defects and to develop surgical treatments for those defects.

2.  How did Mr. Thomas lose his college savings? Suggested Response: The bank in which he put his money failed during the Great Depression.

3.  Can depositors in most banks in the U.S. today lose their money if the bank fails? Give reasons for your answer.Suggested Response: No. Today almost all banks have Federal deposit insurance which protects deposits up to the amount of $100,000.

4.  Why was it difficult for Vivien Thomas to get a job once he had decided that he was not going to be able to go to college? Suggested Response: It was the beginning of the Great Depression and jobs were scarce.

5.  How do scientists get recognition for their scientific research? Suggested Response: Their names are placed on the papers that describe their research.

6.  Was Dr. Blalock a racist or a man who did as much as he could to help Vivien Thomas have a fulfilling career? Suggested Response: There is no one right answer to this question. We tend to take the more charitable view of Dr. Blalock's actions. A good answer will refer to the facts that: (1) Most white doctors in the South in the 1930s and 40s would not have trained a black man with only a high school education to become a full-fledged participant in pioneering scientific research. In addition, Thomas was treated with respect in many other ways. He was, for example, allowed to use the same toilet as all of the white lab workers and doctors. (2) However, Dr. Blalock did not treat Thomas as an equal beyond the walls of the laboratory or operating room. He did not give Thomas credit for his work in the scientific community. He did not invite Thomas to social gatherings. He did not encourage Thomas to attend college and then go to medical school. Dr. Blalock did not pay Thomas a salary commensurate with his work. In these respects, Dr. Blalock took advantage of the color of Thomas' skin. (3) We must be careful not to judge Dr. Blalock by current standards. After he retired in 1963, there was a major shift in thinking about racism and the rights of black people, particularly in the South.

7.  What role did racism play in the fact that Dr. Blalock was able to keep Vivien Thomas as a lab assistant for so many decades and benefit from Thomas' work without giving him credit? Suggested Response: It played a large and probably a primary role in preventing Mr. Thomas and others from demanding that Mr. Thomas have the opportunity to go to college and later get a medical degree. The same is true of Dr. Blalock's failure to give Mr. Thomas credit for his contribution to Dr. Blalock's discoveries.

8.  Leaving aside the question of whether Dr. Blalock should have encouraged Mr. Thomas to attend college and become a surgeon, describe why the Blalock/Thomas team is an example of effective teamwork. Suggested Response: They each contributed their abilities and capacities to a common effort. They each suggested solutions to problems and were proud of each other's contributions.

9.  In the Blalock/Thomas team effort, did one of the team members benefit more than the other? Suggested Response: There is no one right answer to this question, although most will probably say that Dr. Blalock derived more benefit than Mr. Thomas. A good answer will point out at least the following two facts: (1) Dr. Blalock received the larger salary and the kudos as the scientist who discovered new treatments. (2) There was no other black person that we know of who was trained or permitted to play the important role that Mr. Thomas played in scientific research in the South during the 1930s to 1950s.

10.  Did Dr. Blalock act in a caring manner toward Mr. Thomas? Suggested Response: There is no one right answer to this question. A good answer will include a reference to the concept of nurturing. One of the main components of caring is to nurture another individual. Dr. Blalock was nurturing to Mr. Thomas in that he trained him to be a research assistant and surgeon. However, true nurturing behavior would have resulted in Dr. Blalock encouraging Mr. Thomas to go to college and then, if Mr. Thomas so desired, to medical school. True caring, like true friendship, would have resulted in Dr. Blalock giving Mr. Thomas credit for his efforts in the blue baby operations. Still, Dr. Blalock did a lot for Mr. Thomas, in return for what Mr. Thomas did for him. In addition, what Dr. Blalock did for Mr. Thomas was much more than most Southerners would have done for a young black high school graduate in period 1930 - 1960.

11.  Was the blue baby surgery performed by Dr. Blalock full open heart surgery? Suggested Response: Yes. Open heart surgery is any surgery in which the chest wall is opened to reveal the heart. The term "open" refers to the chest, not to the heart itself. Open heart surgery includes surgery on the blood vessels leading to and from the heart.

12.  Why did Vivien Thomas cause such a controversy when he went out of the lab in his white lab coat? Suggested Response: White lab coats were worn by doctors or people performing a task that required expertise. White people at Johns Hopkins were unused to a black man taking on such a role and they felt insecure when Mr. Thomas appeared in a white lab coat. Some blacks probably thought that Thomas was acting above them and resented it.

13.  It is said that Vivien Thomas opened new paths to healing when most doors were closed to him. What is meant by that? Suggested Response: Thomas helped pioneer heart surgery, when the common wisdom among doctors was that it was impossible to work on the heart. At the same time, because of segregation, there were many opportunities that were not open to Mr. Thomas.

14.  Why was cardiac surgery referred to as the "Mount Everest" of medicine before November of 1944? Suggested Response: The constant pumping of the heart is necessary for life to continue. A 90 second interruption in blood flow to the brain would destroy it. Before Drs. Blalock, Taussig and Thomas, no one had demonstrated that major surgery on the blood vessels of the heart was possible.

15.  What did Dr. Blalock see in Vivien Thomas a few weeks after Thomas began to work for him? Suggested Response: That Thomas was talented and that he was someone Dr. Blalock could train to be a good lab technician.

16.  Dr. Levi Watkins, one of the first black graduates of the Johns Hopkins surgery program said this about Vivien Thomas: "I think he is the most untalked about, unappreciated, unknown giant in the African American community. What he helped facilitate impacted people all over the world." Given the fact that Vivien Thomas never participated in a demonstration demanding civil rights or filed a law suit to enforce his rights, what did Dr. Watkins mean? Suggested Response: By working at the cutting edge of medical research, becoming an expert in surgery, and inventing new surgical techniques, Vivien Thomas demonstrated that blacks could perform surgery and conduct scientific research as well as any white man. This was another advance in the demonstration that blacks were not, in any way, genetically inferior to whites.

Questions Relating to "Something the Lord Made"

17.  Do you agree with the priest that Dr. Blalock was being arrogant and had embarked on a vain quest for glory by operating on the heart of a blue baby patient? Suggested Response: Modern secular Western society would clearly answer the question in the negative. Modern medicine's wonder treatments are now routine and actually expected. Many religious people would take the position taken by Eileen's mother, that the operation itself and the possibility of the operation was an expression of God's will. However, this issue is one of belief and there are a few people who would still answer the question in the affirmative.

18.  Was the first blue baby operation an experiment, as the priest charged? Suggested Response: Yes, it was an experiment. It was ethical because the child would have died without the operation. The fact that the operation was experimental should have been (and probably was) fully disclosed to the parents when they were making their decision about whether to give their consent.

19.  Was the priest right that Dr. Blalock was arrogant and vain? Suggested Response: There is no one correct response to this question. A good answer would point out that taking risks and being on the forefront of research in any field could be called arrogant.

20.  Remember the discussion between Harold, Vivien's brother, and their father about what it took to improve the situation of blacks in America? The father pointed out that Harold, the grandson of a man born into slavery, had a college education. He used this as proof that things were getting better and that Harold didn't have to put himself at risk by being a plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking equal pay for black teachers. Harold contended that change in society didn't occur unless people made the changes happen. This required, he argued, that people on occasion put their futures on the line. Who do you agree with? Suggested Response: The right answer is that even if injustice will be corrected gradually, in most cases, people must compel change to occur or it will never happen or it will happen too slowly.

21.  Compare the contributions to the Civil Rights Movement of Vivien Thomas and his brother Harold, who was a plaintiff in a landmark case that went all the way to the Supreme Court. That case established that black teachers had to be paid the same amount as white teachers for the same work. Suggested Response: There is no one right answer to this question. A good answer will note the broad impact of the contributions of both men. Vivien Thomas' role was more unique than the role played by his brother. However, both were essential and important.

22.  Was Dr. Blalock's colleague correct when he worried that Blalock was rushing into the first blue baby operation because Dr. Blalock had prematurely assured the child's parents that he knew how to perform the operation? Suggested Response: The doctor had a point, but Blalock had other considerations as well, most importantly, that the child would die without the operation. It was her only chance.

23.  One of the most important ethical obligations for a doctor is to make sure that his or her treatments do no harm. Did Dr. Blalock violate that obligation by rushing into the first blue baby operation after he had performed only one trial surgery on a dog? Suggested Response: The fact that Blalock was successful is not an answer to this question because Dr. Blalock had to answer it for himself and for his patient before the operation. At that point he didn't know whether it would be a success or not. The important point is that the child would surely have died very soon without the operation. This allowed Dr. Blalock to take the risk of doing harm to his patient and still act in an ethical manner.

24.  After Dr. Blalock and Dr. Taussig took full credit for the operation and didn't given Mr. Thomas any credit, the character of Vivien Thomas in the movie says to Blalock: "I'm invisible to the world. I don't mind that. I understand that. I thought it was different in here." What did he mean? Suggested Response: Thomas and Blalock had, in effect, set up a separate world in the laboratory in which they treated each other without consideration of their respective races. This did not extend to outside the laboratory, but Thomas felt that the blue baby operations were so important that it should have. He was right.

25.  At the end of the film, Dr. Blalock says to Mr. Thomas, "They say you haven't lived unless you have a lot to regret. I regret .... I have some regrets. But I think we should remember not what we lost but what we've done ... all the lives we saved and we did. We saved plenty didn't we Vivien?" What do you think that Blalock was talking about? Suggested Response: Not sharing the acclaim for the blue baby operations with Thomas and not helping Thomas go to college and medical school to become a surgeon.

Questions Relating to "Partners of the Heart"

17.  Why was Nashville different than other Southern communities before the advent of the Civil Rights movement? Suggested Response: It had a large elite class of black middle class professionals and merchants, with black doctors, lawyers, store owners, and entrepreneurs. The residents of Nashville's black middle class enclave created a world of their own. Black firemen secured the neighborhoods. Black doctors cared for the sick. It was not charting new ground for Vivien Thomas to dream of becoming a doctor.

18.  What did Mr. Thomas say to Dr. Blalock when Dr. Blalock lost his temper and cursed at him and how did Dr. Blalock respond? Suggested Response: Thomas resigned saying that he had not been raised to take that kind of language. Dr. Blalock promised that it would never happen again, and it didn't.

19.  It was said of Mr. Thomas and Dr. Blalock that "In the privacy of the lab, they made the rules. Outside, the old rules remained." What was meant by that? Suggested Response: In their partnership, the two men treated each other as human beings and with respect. On the outside, they did not socialize and Thomas was in a subservient role.

See Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.

Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Questions:


See Comprehension Test/Homework Assignment Questions 8 and 9.

1.  Dr. Blalock and Mr. Thomas were a team. What would have happened if either of them had not pulled his weight in the team effort? Suggested Response: Many of their discoveries would not have been made or would have been made later by others.


No questions. The message of the movie on this topic is so obvious it doesn't need any explication.


2.  One would think, that after working together for decades Dr. Blalock and Mr. Thomas would be friends. Were they? Describe the reasons for your answer. Suggested Response: No. They were not friends because Dr. Blalock kept Mr. Thomas in a subordinate position and didn't invite Mr. Thomas to important social occasions, such as the large party thrown for Dr. Blalock.

The following two Questions About Friendship that should be asked together:

3.  What was the most important way in which Dr. Blalock failed to treat Mr. Thomas as a friend? Suggested Response: Friends nurture each other. This would have meant that Dr. Blalock would have helped Mr. Thomas go to college and medical school so that he could become a surgeon.

4.  Was it Mr. Thomas' obligation to support his family or Dr. Blalock's need for him in the laboratory or was it something else that prevented Mr. Thomas from returning to college and then going to medical school? From the standpoint of Dr. Blalock's responsibility as a friend to Mr. Thomas, does the answer matter? Suggested Response: No one knows the answer to the first part of this question. It probably was a combination of the two. But even if Mr. Thomas had not gone to college or medical school because he had a responsibility to take care of his family, it was Dr. Blalock's responsibility to encourage Mr. Thomas and use his best efforts to make it easier for Mr. Thomas to go to school by offering to help Mr. Thomas get a scholarship and financial aid. This Dr. Blalock did not do and this is where he failed Mr. Thomas. (However, it should be noted that Dr. Blalock gave Mr. Thomas an incredible gift by training him as a lab technician and surgeon in days when most Southern whites didn't think that blacks could handle that type of work.)

Moral-Ethical Emphasis Discussion Questions (Character Counts)

Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.


(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)

See Question # 10 in the Comprehension Test/Homework Assignment.

Last updated March 31, 2008.

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