Feed yourself, island strays
with Lunch for Animals
The lunch you buy this weekend could help feed, heal and shelter strays on the island.
This Saturday,June 24, residents can order one of two meals from Peruvian restaurant Nazca that will support local animal rights group, Animal Defenders St. Maarten. Supporters can choose between either a vegan dish, a causa made with potatoes and medley of vegetables, including peppers, onions and fresh cilantro; or a Peruvian-style roasted half-chicken dish with a salad or either fries or rice and a spicy mustard-type sauce.
Each meal costs $12. All proceeds will go to Animal Defenders, which builds and maintains shelters for strays, and feeds, spays/neuters and vaccinates those animals. People in Philipsburg’s Front Street, Back Street or Boardwalk areas can have their meals delivered for free.
You can choose to have lunch at Nazca, which is across from the Methodist Church and near Walter Plantz Square. You will automatically be entered into a raffle to win a bottle of Pisco sour, a citrus-flavoured Peruvian brandy, and a beach towel. Anyone who wants to help this cause can call +1 (721) 588-9567 to buy their tickets.
St. Maarten ready for Dutch Caribbean Women’s Soccer Cup
Soccer fervour has been fired up for the 2nd Annual Dutch Caribbean Women’s Soccer Cup slated to start tomorrow, Friday, June 23, at Raoul Illidge Sports Complex. Organised by Oualichi Women’s Soccer Association and St. Maarten Soccer Association, the three-day affair will see women’s teams SUBT of Curaçao, Oualichi from St. Maarten, SV Britannia of Aruba and a selection from Bonaire’s “Kick it Out” to take home what is quickly becoming a prestigious cup.
One of the main goals of this competition is to raise awareness and the level of women’s soccer within the Dutch Caribbean. There is room for growth in this sport, which Oualichi Women’s Soccer Association and St. Maarten Soccer Association want to use to influence more interest. This event, which is mainly sponsored by Brugal Rum, will also give the associations a great opportunity to showcase the skill of Dutch Caribbean women’s teams.
Another positive outcome of this competition is to sharpen the skills of local Dutch Caribbean women’s teams creating a much needed training ground for a larger global stage. The level of camaraderie generated by this competition offers women soccer fans games to remember while making the Dutch Caribbean women’s teams stronger.
The competition will kick off with an hour-long opening ceremony at 7:00pm followed by the first game of the competition slated for 8:00pm, with St. Maarten’s Oualichi WSA taking on Bonaire’s selection. On Saturday, it is SUBT Curaçao vs. SV Britannia at 9:00am followed by evening matches Bonaire Selection vs. SUBT Curaçao at 6:30pm and SV Britannia vs. Oualichi WSA starting at 8:00pm.
On the final day, Bonaire Selection plays SV Britannia at 6:30pm and St. Maarten based Oualichi WSA challenges SUBT Curaçao starting 8:00pm. A closing ceremony is planned for 9:30pm.
Advance tickets for the entire weekend cost US $10 and ticket holders will also get a chance to win sponsored prizes during the event each night. Sponsors who want to join and contribute to this sporting event can contact [email protected] or “Dutch Caribbean Women’s Soccer Cup” and “Oualichi Women's Soccer Association” on Facebook.
Stoli Brand Ambassador Fernanda Neves is in St. Maarten, where she will be training, bartending and spreading the word about the Stoli brand amongst other things. While on St. Maarten, Fernanda will be doing some market visits: checking the visibility, availability and distribution of Stoli products; looking at the market to promote the brand and teaching people about Stolichnaya Vodka, its origins, how it’s made and how to be creative by using Stoli in cocktails.
Neves also did some staff training at Caribbean Liquors; met with Stoli flagship accounts, held a live radio interview and did some guest bartending. Today, she will conduct a bartender training for interested bartenders from noon to 2:00pm at Melange Restaurant (Port de Plaisance). Lunch will be served. This evening will be the second Stoli Red pop-up party at Dirty Sanchez. Neves will do some guest bartending and there will be a Video DJ and a Stoli pop up bar with drink specials on the Stoli Moscow Mule and Lemonade. The public is welcome.
Neves tells us more about herself in this week’s Hot Seat.
Who is Fernanda Neves?
I am the Stoli Ambassador for Latin America and the Caribbean, and Ultra Luxury portfolio of Stoli for Florida, USA. I was born in Bauru, Sao Paulo. I’ve lived in Miami for the past 15 years. I am a Brazilian natural with some Argentinian blood, who portrays both the distinguished Brazilian charisma and the well-known Argentinian determination.
I hold a Marketing degree from Florida International University (FIU).
When did you discover your love for the marketing and beverage industry?
I have always been an outgoing person who is passionate about everything I do. My family has a business background, so business is in my blood. But when it came to numbers, I always liked to interpret them not calculate them. So marketing was the perfect major for my personality and skills. When my family went back to Brazil and I decided to stay to finish college, I had to start working to pay my bills while going to school. The solution was to work at night in the food and beverage industry and study during the day.
How did you end up being the Stoli Brand Ambassador?
Before Stoli, I worked at Fontainebleau Resort, on the buyer side of the business. I was the official mixologist of the hotel, working at the Scarpetta outlet. I ended up being the Stoli Brand Ambassador after a friend of mine, who had worked for Stoli for five years, recommended me for a new position that opened up based in Miami.
What do your tasks entail?
My job is divided amongst two sides. The Global side, where my territory is Latin America (LATAM), where the focus is more marketing oriented. So I visit markets with the support of the local distributor and I follow the agenda prepared that ranges from Master classes and trainings with distributor, bartenders and buyers to guest bartending events, event appearances, radio/TV shows and media interviews.
What do you like about your job?
I like the versatility of my days. Every day my job is different. I am in different countries, meeting new people and exploring different cultures.
Tell us about your upcoming trip to St. Maarten?
This is my fourth time in St. Maarten, third for work. St. Maarten is definitely at the top of my list when it comes to the islands. Now when I come back, I feel like I’m visiting friends because I know a lot of people already and we always have an amazing time. My expectations are to spread Stoli knowledge and love while keeping a smile on my face.
I will be doing a lot of bartending trainings and two main events at Sunset Lounge at Papia, and the Red Night at Dirty Sanchez.
What would you like to say to encourage people to come out to the bartender training?
If you want to learn about global tendencies and the full Stoli portfolio while having a blast sipping on refreshing drinks, you must show your face. I bet I can have you trying some samba moves after you get the kick from the classic mules.
What special can be expected from you as a guest bartender at Dirty Sanchez?
I will prepare some classic cocktails with some exclusive twists, show different cocktail techniques and individually chat with each guest, answering questions and hearing feedback.
As someone who is always around drinks, what is your favourite alcoholic beverage?
Elit shaken martini with blue cheese olives. I like to keep it simple, classy and original.
What is your advice to others wanting to follow in your professional path?
Keep in tune with the trends, acquire knowledge, keep it positive and be persistent. As bartenders, we have the opportunity to meet a lot of people. Your contacts will be the best skill you have in your resume, so keep those contacts and know when to utilize them at the right time.
My personal goal is to eventually be able to balance my career and start a family. My professional goal is to reach a top position in the company and then start my own brand.
What do you do outside of your job?
Exercise. I love to do sports, run on the beach, walk with my dog and dance.
Tell us something about yourself that no one else knows?
This is a hard one, because I feel like I’m very open with my life… Maybe that I learned how to sing in Japanese with my grandmother [laughs].
What is your favourite type of music?
I love music period. I like almost everything. It all depends on my mood. But I catch myself listening to a lot of Brazilian music, hip hop, and lately soca.
If you could invite three people (dead or alive) for dinner, who would they be and what would you serve them?
I would invite my two brothers and my boyfriend. I would serve them a typical dish from Brazil called feijoada, which consists of black beans cooked for hours with parts of pork like feet, tail, ear, ribs, served with white rice and farinha (yucca powder).
They left everything in Spain. They sold their home and possessions and arrived in St. Maarten with only five suitcases, one for each member of their family. That was three years ago.
These days, business is good for Susana and Eduardo Fargas, who supply supermarkets, resorts and visitors with Spanish products including wines, meats and fragrances. They recently opened a small store next to their warehouse on a narrow side street in Cole Bay. Then they added a few tables, some stools, checkered tablecloths and a menu. There, they offer guests the chance to taste paella, Iberico ham and other food with deep Spanish history. Guests usually walk out with any of the products they might have eaten in their shop.
Susana is quick to point out her “Made in Spain” shop isn’t a restaurant. “I don’t cook here,” she says. “I only warm.”
A slender 40-year-old blonde, Susana flits from table to table while at work, checking on guests, taking orders, discussing and delivering dishes and maybe mostly importantly, taking the cash at the end. While working, she wears her hair in a ponytail, and large, blue glasses adorn her face. It’s her work mode.
“But this is no me,” she pleads in a later conversation with me, as photographer and not interviewer. Then, she poses with her husband, a stout man who is quick to laugh, even at himself, and tends to sing off key and out of tune to songs he enjoys.
Back to interview day, she wears a tidy blouse, red with tiny dots of white. She offers thoughts through a thick Spanish accent for which she apologizes profusely. Sometimes, she mispronounces a word. Other times, she might not follow a grammatical rule exactly. It is an endearing trait. Even more remarkable, though, when you hear her speaking English (which is fine), considering she only learned to really converse in the language two months ago by struggling through conversations with guests when the couple opened their store. She and I talk about that and other things.
Tell me about yourself.
Susana: We were living in Spain. My family are five: My husband, me and three kids. We were living there, and some day my husband asked me if I would like to move to live a new experience with the kids and start again in another place. And I said, “Yes, why not? Sounds good.” My only condition was not in a cold place, so the Caribbean. I was looking on Google for an island with hospital, airport directly to Europe – because if we have to run – and a good school and good for the business also.
Not a lot of options, so we chose St. Maarten. We arrived here with nothing. We sold everything in Spain. We arrived with five suitcases. Come here and we start to sell wines and slowly we grew. That was three years ago. Now, two months before, we thought, why we don't open a small store with the things that we have for the public, also to enjoy, you know; we opened the store and then we thought we can put some tables and then the people can try, which we sell.
How is business?
Susana: Good. Good. Since the first day we opened, we don't do advertisements because we want to go slowly. I did not want a lot of people coming every day because two months before, I just didn’t speak English – just a little bit; but not to be here with a lot of people. At the beginning, it was just the neighbours and some friends of ours. But friends told friends, and now, a lot of people know us. We will make the website.
What about your family? Tell me about your children.
Susana: They are lovely the first thing. We are like a pineapple, you know, very close, because we have only our family here. We are very close, and they are very happy to live here, this experience and to see how their parents are working for [them]. They respect us a lot, our work. They are always, “Can I help you?”
What do you want for the business? Where do you want it to go and to be?
Susana: For example, Saturdays it's full. I would like every day like Saturdays. And then we would like to start making delivery for the boats. We want to deliver cases of wine, legs of hams and everything that we have. We want to deliver it to the boats.
Who eats here?
Susana: It's very mixed – French people, Dutch people and people from St. Maarten. In the neighbourhood, there are a lot of people from St. Maarten; they come here for something different; always the ribs and the chicken. They like new flavours.
While Susana and I talk, Eduardo is busy stocking the warehouse, loading and unloading palettes and generally getting his hands dirty. Susana lovingly refers to him as being industrious. She says of him that he inspired their move and built their business through many hours of in-person conversations, a backpack filled with samples, with various merchants on the island. She mimes walking with her fingers in the air as she talks about him. He stops in for a few moments while we talk to join the interview. Quickly, I can tell the two enjoy each other. They share a laugh in Spanish. Eduardo draws me into that conversation. As I start guiding the interview, he asks casually, “So what do you want to know? About my unrecognized children?” He is joking, of course. And Susana, who knows this too, chides him.
It looks to me like you have a lot of laughs together.
Eduardo: For us it's necessary, the sense of humour. Because you know life sometimes is so tough.
Susana: It's very easy to live with him because he is the most positive person in the world, so it's easy. He has everything super clear, and he's super clever in everything, no? If there is something to do, he do.
Eduardo: And I cry easy, so...
Susana: What more? And nothing is for him. It's always for me first and then the kids. And he's very...
[She struggles for a moment to find a word. Eduardo has a suggestion.]
A moment of raucous laughter ensues, mostly from me. I didn’t see that coming at all, but it is indicative of their relationship.
Later, after the laughter subsides, back to Susana.
Susana: Life is easy. It's for that because I say yes, to do. For example, my friends told me, "Don't do that because you going to feel alone. Yes, you gonna have your husband and your kids but alone in a new place, with new everything. I say, “No, I have my husband; it's everything that I need.” My kids por supuesto are with me, no? Otherwise, I cannot come. We are always everything that I need. If you don't want or need anything, then you're happy.
About then, Eduardo leaves and says to her, “Adios, pretiosa.”
“It means beautiful,” she tells me. That is usually how the two part ways.
“A perfume is like a piece of clothing, a message, a way of presenting oneself ... a costume ... that differs according to the woman who wears it.” ~Paloma Picasso
Perfumes are fun to experiment with and are an integral part of dressing up (or down) these days. But fragrances have a rich and fascinating history and their origins can be traced back thousands of years.
History: In 1370 the first alcohol-based perfume was created for Queen Elizabeth of Hungary. Elizabeth, well known for her great beauty, was 72 when a Polish king of 25 asked for her hand in marriage.
Our Sense of Smell: Sinus disease, respiratory infections and head injuries are all common causes of persistent loss of smell. Prolonged exposure to toxic substances such as air pollutants, industrial chemicals, tobacco smoke and certain drugs can diminish and even damage the olfactory cells.
Fragrance Fact: Everyone has a unique smell-print. Like thumbprints, our sniffing abilities are exclusive. In fact, due to scent blind spots, there are specific odours you just can’t detect. Now you know why your best friend’s new floral perfume just smells saccharine sweet to you.
Fragrance Tip: If perfumes don’t last on you, layer your scent. Buy a set with scented lotion and perfume. Layering your scent this way makes it last all day.
Classic Fragrances: Fracas was first launched in 1948 by the Robert Piguet house and then reissued in 1998. Intoxicating fragrance in Parisian style, known for its refined simplicity. Fracas comes in a recognizable black bottle. It opens with freshly sweet notes of bergamot, mandarin and lilac. The heart brings lovely fusion of white flowers. Tuberose, exuberant and seductive, nicely blends with pure, clear and intensive notes of jasmine, white narcissus, gardenia, lily of the valley and white iris, with a hint of orange blossom and violet embraced by sandalwood, vetiver and sensual musk in the base.
Trends: The over-connected world of around-the-clock communication continues to expand, fuelling the consumer’s yearning to unplug, slow down and return to life’s simple pleasures. The trends in fragrance echo this intrinsic movement to embrace the “natural” and incorporate its ethereal yet grounding, gentle yet dynamic influences in one’s fragrance wardrobe. The consumers’ search for authenticity has driven demand for products that exhibit organic, unrefined qualities and contain ingredients that mirror the pure, raw, native and vitalizing character of land, sea, fire and sky.
Question: Are certain men’s fragrances also best for certain seasons? Yes. As with women’s fragrance, heavier notes are best in the colder months; lighter fragrances are more suited to summer weather. If you like to wear the more potent, heavier fragrances year round, consider using the lighter aftershave version as a body cologne in warmer weather.
Perfume Names: Ksenia has named her perfume created at Tijon “From Paris to Rome” and describes it as a wondrous journey to the site of memories. The fragrance opens with top and middle notes of fig, green aloe, clove, bamboo teak, sunflower, lemongrass and sage and finishes with base notes of vanilla, amber, white musk and musk.
Oil Spotlight: Did you know that musk is actually potent, reddish-brown substance secreted by male musk deer? Since it requires killing an endangered animal, it’s rarely used for perfume today – instead, perfumers use materials that mimic traditional musk, like ambrette or synthetic raw materials.
Last Thought: A smile is an inexpensive way to improve your looks.
Tijon Parfumerie is located in Grand Case where there are 23 signature perfumes offered and a lab where guests can create their own fragrance.
~ What can you do about it? ~
Erectile Dysfunction (ED) is the most common sexual problem experienced by men. About one third of men will experience this problem in their lifetime. Even though it is quite common, and can have profound effects on intimate relationships, quality of life and self-esteem; very few men seek medical attention due to shame. However, there is nothing to be ashamed about.
These pastries are easy to make with store-bought puff pastry. You can choose a sweet or a savoury filling. Have an adult help you in the kitchen.
1 package of frozen puff pastry
1 cup Demerara sugar with 1 tsp cinnamon stirred in (for sweet filling)
Parmesan cheese, finely grated (for savoury filling)
Leave the pastry out to defrost, about 30 mins.
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Carefully unroll the pastry leaving the backing paper in place.
Sprinkle the filling of your choice on top, making sure to reach the edges.
Gently press the filling into the pastry with a rolling pin.
With the long edge of the rectangle of pastry in front of you, using your fingertips and your palms, carefully roll the pastry up half-way until you reach the centre.
Turn the pastry around and roll up the opposite edge until you reach the middle.
Wrap the pastry log tightly in the original paper and pop into the freezer for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile preheat the oven to 400° F.
Remove the pastry log from the freezer.
Using a knife dipped in flour; cut the pastry log into slices about 1cm thick.
Place the slices on top of the parchment paper on the cookie sheet, leaving some space around each pastry as they will spread as they bake.
Bake for 12-15 minutes, until crisp and golden.
Have an adult remove the pastries from the baking tray with a palette knife and leave to cool on a baking rack.
Many kids have allergies to certain foods. Food allergies can cause both mild and severe symptoms and the only way to prevent a reaction is to completely avoid the food you are allergic to.
Our immune system protects us from germs and illnesses. It does this by releasing chemicals to fight anything harmful that enters our bodies. In a person who suffers from allergies, the immune system makes a mistake. It reacts to certain foods, as if they are something harmful, even though that food would be fine for a person who is not allergic to it. The reaction causes chemicals to be released. These chemicals can cause many different reactions like coughing, runny nose and eyes, skin rashes, swelling, stomach upsets and breathlessness. Depending on how allergic you are – the reaction could be mild or serious.
The most common foods that cause allergies are milk, eggs, peanuts (which are actually a legume rather than a true nut), soy, wheat, sesame seeds, tree nuts (for example pecans, cashews, walnuts and almonds), fish, and shellfish (like crab and shrimp). You are more likely to have a food allergy if others in your family have them.
If your parents think you have a food allergy, they will take you to the doctor to be tested. The allergy doctor may do a skin test by making a tiny scratch on your skin and placing a small drop of the substance that you are suspected to be allergic to on it. If the skin reacts (for example, it might go red and itchy, or rise up into a bump) it will show that you have an allergy. The doctor may also decide to take a blood sample which is then sent to be tested for allergic reaction.
If you know you are allergic to a certain food, you have to make sure not to eat it. This is more difficult than it sounds. For example, if you are allergic to nuts, you have to check that there are none hidden in items like baked goods (such as cookies) or in sauces or stews. Your parents will check the labels on foodstuffs for you. Be careful to always use clean utensils for serving and eating food. Even a tiny amount of an allergen can cause a reaction in an allergic person. It’s a good idea that your parents let your school and coach know about any allergies that you may have, so they can help too.
Some people have severe allergies. In such cases, the doctor may advise that they can carry a medicine around with them. The medicine is called epinephrine; it is a shot that is contained in a pen-like device. Anyone who has a severe reaction will also have to go straight away to be checked out in hospital. For people with milder allergies, the doctor may advise them to take an antihistamine medication. Always tell an adult straightaway if you feel ill and have symptoms, such as rash, swollen lips, difficulty breathing or upset stomach.
For the past four months, Elisa Oldani has been working for Environmental Protection In the Caribbean’s (EPIC) with the goal of maintaining and expanding their eco-label program. The non-profit foundation is the national operator of two internationally recognized eco-labels: Blue Flag and Green Key.
Elisa is a student of International Tourism Management and Consultancy at NHTV in The Netherlands. During her time on Sint Maarten, she has been raising awareness about the benefits of eco-labels and hopes to motivate more sites on Sint Maarten to get certified. Eco-label certification can provide many benefits, which I heard more about from Elisa during our interview.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a small village in the countryside near Milan with my younger brother and parents. My parents always motivated me to use my imagination and follow my dreams, which made me feel as though I was capable of anything! Today, they are just as supportive.
As a young teenager, I felt like the world was calling me to explore it! I embarked on my first solo trip, which was to Ireland, at the age of 12. I loved the sense of freedom I tasted. This might’ve also been part of the reason I was so rebellious as I got a bit older. At 15, I was eager to grow up and probably made my parents’ life hell! Thankfully, today, I have changed my tune and must say I get nostalgic for those “loving and carefree” years I took for granted.
How did you end up in The Netherlands?
With travelling as a passion; I decided to work in IT, which is an easy way to make money and live independently in another country. Doing this, I lived in Ireland and in Spain for a few years, but I started to hate my job. I didn’t feel satisfied at the end of the day and so I started to think about other options.
I had learnt that my favourite part about travelling was getting to know people and their culture, this led me to mull over how I could get into tourism. I know now that tourism encompasses so much more than plainly travel and working with people. But back then, those two simple reasons were good enough for me! After attending an “open day” at NHTV, I knew that International Tourism Management and Consultancy was a great fit to obtain these goals.
Tell me about your study?
International Tourism Management and Consultancy mainly focuses on the destination; so what tourists experience as soon as they step foot in the country they are visiting. It has to do less with the tourists themselves and more with the country and community they find themselves in. This can be very broad and includes many different aspects of the country – from health and income, to culture, activities and more.
How did you hear about EPIC?
My school has a database with internships that are offered, and EPIC was one of them. They were looking for someone to fulfil the role of “eco-label coordinator.” Reading the description of the internship, I liked that it was a very independent assignment, in a country I had never visited and is run by a non-profit.
Honestly, I did not know much about eco-labels when I applied for the internship. We learn to also look at the environmental aspects around tourism in our study, but I hadn’t had the chance yet to see it at work. Tourism will always have an impact on the environment, but by implementing certain practices, this impact can be decreased. I liked the idea of using eco-labels; it is a smart way to motivate businesses to think about tourism in a more sustainable manner.
What was your first impression of Sint Maarten?
I thought it was Bali! Of course, after driving around, I also saw the differences. But the warm weather, palm trees, disorderly neighbourhoods and chill vibe reminded me of my time in Indonesia. I also remember thinking, “Wow! The water is even bluer than in the pictures I have seen.”
What are some of your tasks as EPIC’s eco-label coordinator?
Educating and creating awareness about the two eco-labels EPIC manages – these are Blue Flag for marinas and beaches, and Green Key for tourism-based industry such as hotels. I support our existing sites: Isle De Sol Marina, Divi Little Bay, Princess Heights and Holland House and try to inspire and convince others to get accredited.
How are you trying to convince others to invest in an eco-label?
Some business owners want to be part of environmental efforts, such as eco-labels, because of their own love for the environment, BUT when you run a business, you also are forced to think economically. So I think it is important to let interested stakeholders know that it can also be profitable to get eco-label certified. Eco-labels often improve efficiency, which means you save costs on management, staff, water and electricity. It also provides an extra marketing platform.
Why should a business invest in an eco-label?
Besides the chance of cutting costs and increasing profits, eco-labels such as Blue Flag and Green Key also help your business take corporate responsibility. You are making a positive difference to the environment and the community, which also has an effect on the long-term success of your business.
When you are not doing EPIC work, what do you enjoy?
I am also working on a destination analysis of Sint Maarten as an assignment for school, which I think is very interesting. I love researching the history and culture of a new place. In my free time, I like to drive around the island and see where a random road takes me; watch movies; hang out with friends; and volunteer for the Animal Defenders by feeding the many dogs on the island.
How can people who are interested in the Blue Flag or Green Key eco-labels contact you?
Email me at [email protected] or visit EPIC’s website: www.epicislands.org
Touch not the heart, so said the age old medical dictum, repeated and believed for centuries by every doctor since Hippocrates. Of course, nowadays heart surgery is performed thousands of times each day across the globe. The story of that shift in thinking, that initial courage to even attempt surgery on the heart, begins in Nashville, Tennessee in 1930 and it involves the grandfather and great-grandfather of the Dijkhoffz family of St. Maarten.
The man’s name was Vivien Thomas, and he was born in 1910 in Louisiana and raised in Nashville. He graduated from that city’s Pearl High School in 1929 with plans of becoming a doctor. This wasn’t a far-fetched dream, Nashville in those days already had many black doctors, and his grades were good. His father was a carpenter and he picked up those skills, earning money for college across seven years of part-time work. That money disappeared in the financial crash of 1929, though, along with his dreams of becoming a doctor.
He found a job helping a medical researcher, Dr. Alfred Blalock, who was a brash and ambitious man with plans to understand the mechanisms of traumatic shock and develop effective treatments. Blalock ran a laboratory at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University in which he operated on dogs from the pound to learn successful surgical techniques. Thomas’ job was to sweep out the animal pens, but Blalock quickly realized the young man’s intelligence, dedication and outstanding eye-hand-coordination. Within one year Blalock had Thomas running his lab, keeping the notes and conferring on the research. His pay and job title, however, remained that of janitor.
Vivien Thomas was more than Blalock’s assistant, he was a colleague with skills and insights that were invaluable to the surgeon. Together they broke ground and Blalock became famous, while Thomas remained invisible. Blalock had a well-earned reputation for being abrasive, but Thomas, though soft-spoken and professional, managed to assert his own dignity and the two held each other in mutual respect.
By 1943 Blalock’s techniques were being celebrated; World War II was in full swing and the treatment of shock was being heralded as a life-saving innovation. He was given the post of Head of Surgery at the famed Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. He asked Thomas to come with him to the new job, and Thomas felt compelled to go, although the decision wasn’t easy. He had become a husband to his high school sweetheart, Clara, and father to their children, two little girls that were deeply connected to the community in Nashville. They owned a home in a nice neighborhood with trees in the yard – Baltimore was a world away. But they did follow Blalock to Johns Hopkins and the unlikely collaboration continued.
Surprisingly, in those days, Baltimore was more segregated than Nashville, and Johns Hopkins was not open to seeing Vivien Thomas, a black man in a white lab coat, walking their halls. The Thomas family was not happy with Baltimore, their housing situation was appalling and they were so far from family and friends they loved. But the researchers were focusing on the work, and family’s needs were secondary. “I was ready to go back when I saw Baltimore,” remembered Clara Thomas during an interview seen in the documentary Partners of the Heart. “It was something I had to put up with,” she said with a chuckle, “and I put up with it.”
Dr. Helen Taussig soon entered the picture. This woman was one of the few female surgeons at that time and she specialized in pediatrics and cardiac care. She asked the pair of Blalock and Thomas to consider the dilemma of “blue babies” — infants born with a heart defect that keeps their bodies from getting enough oxygen, turning them slightly blue. The condition is also called cyanotic heart disease, a birth defect that at the time, was fatal.
At Taussig’s urging the research was undertaken. Blalock was a bold risk-taker, and imagined a chance to make history, but he found only a handful of physicians willing to consider surgery on the heart. The entire research workload he gave to Thomas who threw himself into collecting data on the infant hearts including documenting the sounds of the blood moving through the arteries and chambers of the heart. Thomas devised a method to replicate the condition of a cyanotic heart in one of their laboratory animals. Then he proceeded to try to cure it. Over time Vivien Thomas succeeded in mastering the technique of restoring proper blood flow to the dogs. He even designed and built a small surgical clamp for use in pediatric heart surgeries.
On November 29, 1944 Dr. Alfred Blalock is at the operating table of Johns Hopkins Hospital’s operating theatre. The hospital’s top surgeons are sitting in the audience to observe. A tiny baby named Eileen Saxon is anesthetized and laying on the table. Her skin is an odd shade of blue. This is the moment of the first ever heart surgery on a human being, but Blalock cannot proceed. To the shock of everyone in the room, he calls for Vivien Thomas to join the surgical team. Thomas reports to the operating theatre, is scrubbed up and joins Blalock at the operating table. A nurse gets him a box to stand on so he can look directly over Blalock’s shoulder and guide his every move. During the surgery Thomas quietly corrected Blalock’s actions if he strayed from the methods Thomas had perfected and he answered any question Blalock had with stunning confidence. History records that as the surgery concluded, Baby Eileen’s color immediately shifted from sickly blue to rosy pink.
Blalock’s risk paid off big time. His success put John Hopkins Hospital at the pinnacle of the medical profession. News of the successful “Blue Baby Operations” made headlines around the world. Families from across North America and Europe flooded to the hospital with their cyanotic children in need of the surgery. In the first year alone, he performed over 200 operations, always with Vivien Thomas standing over his right shoulder, offering advice. The procedure is now known to cardiac surgeons as the Blalock-Thomas-Taussig Anastomosis.
By the 1960s Johns Hopkins Hospital was doing ground-breaking research on open heart surgery. Vivien Thomas had earned his place as an instructor at Johns Hopkins, and Blalock, also teaching, was nearing retirement. In 1976, Thomas was given an honorary doctorate from Johns Hopkins and his portrait was placed in the hall of honor at the Welch Medical Library, where he had once been told he couldn’t even come in.
Vivien Thomas had a huge impact – he helped to change prevailing attitudes both in medicine and in the greater society – He proved to the medical community that African Americans are equally capable as the most prestigious white physicians. For many years he trained surgeons at Johns Hopkins, even during the turbulent times of the civil rights movement. His work was also a turning point in pediatric cardiology and changed heart surgery forever. After his and Blalock’s successes, surgeons were more willing to perform critical procedures on children and as a result many other life-saving treatments were developed.
Vivien Thomas’ granddaughter, Ursula Dijkhoffz, recalls him from her childhood in Baltimore. “My sister and I were born and raised in Baltimore Maryland and grew up with our mother, Theodosia, and her parents, Vivien and Clara Thomas. My grandfather was always hopeful that I would pursue a career as a doctor as I often walked the hallways of Johns Hopkins with him. He was the father figure in our lives and though he was very stern and serious, we have fond memories.”
Ursula regrets that her children never had the pleasure to meet their great grandfather, but told how she took them up to Baltimore every summer to share in the life of their great-grandmother, Clara Thomas, and to visit Johns Hopkins where his portrait hangs. “My sister and I knew very little about his genius or his struggles while growing up until later in our young adult lives. We didn't realize the impact that his work contributed to the medical field until much later. To us, he was our grandfather. The movie, Something the Lord Made, depicted more than his brilliance, but showed a humble man who endured without losing sight of his passion through the tough times of life. A lesson for all of us. My family and I are all proud and honored to be part of his legacy.”
Ursula and her daughters attended a ceremony last month at Vanderbilt Medical University where Thomas was honored along with two others that had contributed major impacts to the medical field. Ursula shared with WEEKender: “We are all very proud of this endeavor from Vanderbilt and I am honored that I was able to attend this event. My daughters whom were all born and raised on St. Maarten, celebrated this event along with me. They are the heirs to his legacy as his great-granddaughters.
- Maritza Dijkhoffz- General Manager of Sint Maarten Executive Business Services N.V., BIMACO Distributors N.V., and Divi Little Bay Superette
- Anisa Dijkhoffz - Credit Manager for Corporate and Investment banking at CIBC/FCIB
- Bianca Dijkhoffz - professional dancer in New York City
Thomas's legacy as an educator and scientist continues with the Vivien Thomas Young Investigator Awards, given by the Council on Cardiovascular Surgery and Anesthesiology. In 1993, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation instituted the Vivien Thomas Scholarship for Medical Science and Research. In fall 2004, the Baltimore City Public School System opened a school in his name: The Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy. Here is a link to more information about that school in Baltimore: https://spark.adobe.com/page/hVMkbchXf0IK6/ . The Journal of Surgical Case Reports announced in January 2010 that its annual prizes for the best case report written by a doctor and best case report written by a medical student would be named after Thomas.
Want to know more? Youtube has a feature film that you can enjoy about this topic. Something The Lord Made, is a 2004 HBO film starring Alan Rickman, Mos Def and Gabrielle Union. Also there is a very good documentary on Thomas and Blalock, called Partners of the Heart, narrated by Morgan Freeman. There is also impressive reading to be found on the Vivien Thomas Wikipedia page.
Written by Lisa Davis-Burnett