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Partners of the Heart

Against the backdrop of segregation, Vivien Thomas, a black carpenter’s apprentice with a genius for surgery, and Dr. Alfred Blalock, a renowned white surgeon, dared to defy medical gospel by forging a partnership that changed the course of medical history.

The two men’s work together led to one of the century’s major breakthroughs: a daring heart operation that has saved thousands of children afflicted with a congenital heart defect called “Blue Baby Syndrome.” With only a high school degree, Thomas became a cardiac pioneer and a committed teacher to two generations of America’s premiere heart surgeons at a time when he himself could not become one. His journey is a compelling, often overlooked American story of personal triumph over the repressive strictures of his time.

Narrated by Morgan Freeman, Partners of the Heart was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and was broadcast on PBS’ American Experience.  Partners of the Heart was highlighted as one of the top 50 projects funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities during their 50th anniversary celebration in 2015.

Watch Partners of the Heart now on-demand. Money raised from sales of this film go towards our community engagement programs.




From the start of pre-production, the goal behind Partners of the Heart was to use the film to inspire young people to strive for excellence and keep their minds open to life's possibilities. We sought to achieve this through a multi-dimensional informational outreach campaign that involved educational institutions, communities and like-minded organizations to help the film resonate well beyond its broadcast.  

  • Multiple educational screenings for thousands of high school and college students at locations such as Georgetown University, Johns Hopkins, Museum of Tolerance, University of Washington in Seattle, among others. 

  • Three special screening events supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation at Detroit's Dominican High School and Girls Academy and Crockett Career and Technical Center, and Washington DC's Martin Luther King, Jr. Library.  Approximately 500 students attended these three events.   

  • Partners of the Heart became the centerpiece of GlaxoSmithKline's Healthy Communities campaign, which combined free screenings of the film with community health fairs across the country - focusing primarily on disadvantaged communities. 

  • The GSK Healthy Communities campaign also featured an Ambassador Program which involved selected prominent physicians or community leaders taking on the task of mentoring high school students and organizing free health screenings. There were four major Ambassador events in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Washington DC, and New York. 

  • In partnership with GSK, the Congressional Black Caucus Spouses and the CBC Foundation to create a new $500,000 scholarship named in honor of Vivien T. Thomas for African American high school graduates interested in pursuing careers in health, medicine or biomedical research. The scholarship was announced at the Library of Congress in an event that was attended by members of Congress, and physicians from Johns Hopkins, as well as representatives from NEH, CPB, PBS, American College of Cardiology, NIH, Association of Black Cardiologists, AARP and the National Library of Medicine.

  • Stone Soup's engagement activities for Partners of the Heart continue today.  With support from Maryland Humanities, Stone Soup organizes a semi-annual event at the Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy, a high school in an underserved area of Baltimore focused on preparing students for college and careers in science and medicine.  Click here to learn more about this exciting continuing program.  

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