How Treating Others As Image-Bearers Saved My Daughter’s Life

I want to take this opportunity to share with you excerpts from my recent graduation charge to our sixth graders. Given the challenges facing their generation [and now in light of the tragedies this summer], I hoped to inspire them to see the impact they can have in the world when they treat others like the image-bearers they are. 

Class of 2016, …Reflecting on our chapel theme this year from the Beatitudes, I want to share an illustration that will remind you of the importance of being peacemakers and treating others as image-bearers— regardless of our differences. Dr. Brian Lindman, a Central parent, shared the following story with me— one I later read in The Washingtonian magazine (which I share from below).¹

I hope this charge inspires you as it did me.

“In 1930, Vivien Thomas, a 19-year-old carpenter’s apprentice had his sights set on Tennessee State College and then medical school. But the [great] depression, which had halted work in Nashville, wiped out his savings and forced him to postpone college. Through a friend who worked at Vanderbilt University, Thomas learned of an opening as a [medical] laboratory assistant for a young doctor named Alfred Blaylock—who was, in his friend’s words, ‘[hard] to get along with.’ Thomas decided to take a chance, and on February 10, 1930, he walked into Blalock’s animal lab…”

“Face to face on two lab stools, each told the other what he needed. Thomas needed a job, he said, until he could enter college the next fall. Blalock…needed ‘someone in the lab whom he could teach to do anything he could do, and maybe do things he couldn’t do.’ ”

“Each man got more than he bargained for. Within three days, Vivien Thomas was performing almost as if he’d been born in the lab, doing arterial punctures on the laboratory dogs and measuring and administering anesthesia. [Amazingly] within a month, the former carpenter was setting up experiments and performing delicate and complex operations…” A carpenter performing surgical operations?

When we treat others like the image-bearers that they are, God uses us often in ways we can’t even imagine.

“By 1940, [with the help of Vivien Thomas], Dr. Blalock’s research had put him head and shoulders above any young surgeon in America. When the call came to return to his alma mater, Johns Hopkins, as surgeon-in-chief, he was able to make a deal on his own terms, and it included [a paid position for] Thomas [to work with him].”

At this point, I should mention that Mr. Vivien was African American and Dr. Blalock was Caucasian— and “they did historic things together that neither could do alone.”

“[For] Together they devised an operation to save what doctors refer to as ‘Blue Babies’—infants born with a heart defect that sends blood past their lungs—[an operation] that Vivien had worked out in the lab, long before Dr. Blalock [operated on] Eileen, the first Blue Baby.”

Before this surgical innovation, Blue Babies died not long after they were born. So it should be no surprise that “almost overnight, Operating Room 706 became ‘the heart room,’ as dozens of Blue Babies and their parents came to Hopkins from all over the United States, then from abroad, spilling over into rooms on six floors of the hospital…One after another [these] children, who had never been able to sit upright, began standing at their crib rails [no longer blue but] healthy.”

In addition to this surgical innovation, Vivien also “found a way to improve circulation in patients whose great vessels were transposed. The problem had stymied Blalock for months, and now it seemed that Thomas had solved it…

“‘Vivien, are you sure you did this?’ Vivien answered in the affirmative. After a pause [Dr. Blalock] said, ‘Well, this looks like something the LORD made.’”

When we treat others like the image-bearers that they are, God uses us often in ways we can’t even imagine.

One of your classmates turned blue 12 hours after she was born with her great heart vessels transposed. She, and thousands of babies like her, would not be here today, if Vivien Thomas and Alfred Blalock had not defied the racial prejudices and injustices of their day to develop these medical breakthroughs together.

For when men and women like Blalock and Thomas treat each other like the image-bearers that they are, God uses them in ways they can’t even imagine.

As you go forth, know you have been greatly blessed by the biblical foundation you have received at Central—echoed in your classmates Stuart, Sarah, and William’s wonderful words tonight on what it means to have a Passion for God, a Love of Truth, and a Zeal to Serve…

I conclude my charge with the challenge from Matthew 5 which directly follows the Beatitudes we learned each month in chapel this year: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Amen!

P.S. For those who did not attend the graduation service, the Blue Baby with transposition of great arteries was my own 6th grade graduate, Sara Cate Murray, pictured below before her surgery and at graduation (on the right).

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¹Katie McCabe, “Like Something the Lord Made,” The Washingtonian, August 1989.

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