Helen Brooke Taussig, who was born on this day in 1898 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is known for her work on ‘blue baby syndrome’, a condition so called because babies' lips, fingers and toes turn blue. This is an indication that a heart defect is preventing enough blood from reaching the lungs to provide the body with oxygen. It’s commonly caused by a combination of four defects in the heart known as the Tetralogy of Fallot. In 1944, Taussig and two colleagues carried out the first operation on a baby to correct the fatal disorder. They rerouted an artery that normally gives blood to the arm – the subclavian artery – to the lungs, providing the body with sufficient oxygen. By the time Taussig was 30, she had lost her hearing, so she would detect the heart’s rhythms by touch, rather than sound. “Learn to listen with your fingers,” she said.
Written by Nick Kennedy
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