Inventor of Partial Artificial Heart Dies

DeBakey was best-known for his trailblazing efforts in the treatment of cardiovascular diseases.

Michael DeBakey, MD, died in Houston last Friday at age 99. Scores of cardiac patients, myself included, are enjoying active lives following a life-threatening event thanks to his research. Always brilliant, at times controversial like any trendsetter, DeBakey revolutionized coronary treatment in both the United States and the world.

I was fortunate that my interventional cardiology team was able to treat me with the stents on the day of my heart attack almost two years ago, but millions if others have undergone heart bypass surgery, of which DeBakey was a pioneer.

The Baylor College of Medicine, with which he served in many key positions, including Chair, Department of Surgery from 1948-1993, has memoralized him on its Web site, in addition to posting a special Web site in his honor. It is good reading for both patients and physicians, about a man whose contributions live on in mamy areas of research.

Born in Lake Charles, LA, in 1908, DeBakey showed himself an innovator even in medical school at Tulane University, inventing the roller pump, which became an essential part of the heart-lung machine and made possible open-heart surgery.

As the special Baylor College of Medicine site states, DeBakey was best-known for his trailblazing efforts in the treatment of cardiovascular diseases. He was the first to perform successful excision and graft replacement of aneurysms of the thoracic aorta and obstructive lesions of the major arteries.

A pioneer in the development of an artificial heart, he was the first to use a partial artificial heart--a left ventricular bypass pump--successfully. He conceived the idea of lining a bypass pump and its connections with Dacron velour, a concept he later applied to the Dacron arterial grafts he had developed.

In 1953, he performed the first successful carotid endarterectomy, establishing the field of surgery for strokes. In 1964, DeBakey and associates performed the first successful aortocoronary-artery bypass with autogenous vein graft. In 1968, he led a team of surgeons in a historic multiple-transplant procedure in which the heart, kidneys, and one lung of a donor were transplanted into four recipients.

DeBakey served as president of many distinguished medical societies, published more than 1,400 medical articles and his “Living Heart’’ book was a best-seller. He received over 200 awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction from President Lyndon B. Johnson, the highest honor an American citizen can receive, in 1969.

He also earned the Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Research, the American Equivalent of the Nobel Prize in 2007 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2008. He was also instrumental in the conception of treatment of serious injuries on the battlefield and the MASH unit. A perfectionist, he was known to be charming to patients and at publoc functions, but quite tough on surgical residents, His friends all say he mellowed in recent years, himself receiving the treatement and surgery he pioneered for a torn aorta in 2006.

It is estimated he performed over 60,000 surgeries. Baylor College of Medicine’s on-line tribute to DeBakey is well worth more than a casual glance.