Sunday, July 20, 2008

Pioneering Cardiovascular Surgeon Michael DeBakey Dead at 99

Dr. Michael DeBakey, the world-famous cardiovascular surgeon who pioneered such now-common procedures as bypass surgery and invented a host of devices to help heart patients, has died. He was 99. According to a statement issued early Saturday by Baylor College of Medicine and The Methodist Hospital, he died Friday night at The Methodist Hospital in Houston from "natural causes”.

DeBakey was born Sept. 7, 1908, in Lake Charles, La., the son of Lebanese immigrants. He got interested in medicine while listening to physicians chat at his father's pharmacy. He received his bachelor's and medical degrees from Tulane University in New Orleans. DeBakey's first wife, Diana Cooper DeBakey, died of a heart attack in 1972. Three years later, DeBakey married a German film actress, Katrin Fehlhaber.

In his early career, DeBakey invented a new blood transfusion needle, a new suture scissors and a new colostomy clamp. DeBakey began teaching at Tulane in 1937. Then, during World War II, DeBakey worked in Europe as director of the surgeon general's surgical consultants division, helping develop mobile army surgical hospitals (MASH units) and specialized treatment centers for returning veterans.

DeBakey counted world leaders among his patients and helped turn Baylor from a provincial school into one of the nation's great medical institutions. Ron Girotto, president of The Methodist Hospital System, said Dr. DeBakey's reputation brought many people into the institution, and he treated them all: entertainers, heads of state, businessperson and presidents, as well as people with no titles and no means. Moreover, Girotto said the surgeon has improved the human condition and touched the lives of generations to come.

Dr. Denton Cooley, president and surgeon-in-chief at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston and longtime DeBakey rival, said DeBakey was one of the pioneers of cardiovascular surgery in the last half of the 20th century. Moreover, he added, one of DeBakey's greatest legacies is that DeBakey influenced so many students to pursue careers in cardiovascular surgery.

DeBakey invented the roller pump while he still in medical school in 1932, which became the major component of the heart-lung machine, beginning the era of open-heart surgery. The machine takes over the function of the lungs and heart during surgery. It was the start of a lifetime of innovation. The surgical procedures that DeBakey developed once were the wonders of the medical world. Nowadays, they are commonplace procedures in most hospitals.

DeBakey also was a pioneer in the effort to develop artificial hearts and heart pumps to assist patients waiting for transplants, and helped create more than 70 surgical instruments. In early 2006, DeBakey underwent surgery for a damaged aorta, which is a procedure he had developed.

In a rare interview published later that year, DeBakey gave The New York Times details of the operation, performed when he was 97. DeBakey said it was a miracle. Moreover, he said he really should not be there. He said he at first gambled that his aorta would heal on its own and refused to be admitted to a hospital, and was unresponsive and near death when his doctors and his wife decided to proceed, despite his age. He then spent several months in the hospital. However, after he had recovered, DeBakey told his doctors that he was glad they had operated, despite his earlier refusals.

Dr. William T. Butler, a colleague of DeBakey's at Baylor, said in March 2006 that DeBakey established himself with his surgical firsts as the "maestro of cardiovascular surgery”. He added Dr. DeBakey was never afraid to challenge the status quo, often going against the tide. Moreover, he said some times DeBakey’s colleagues did not really accept his visionary ideas, particularly as he propelled beyond the boundaries of existing scientific dogma.

Dr. George Noon, a cardiovascular surgeon, called his longtime partner as “the greatest surgeon of the 20th century" who "single-handedly raised the standard of medical care, teaching and research around the world.

DeBakey said, "I'm accused of being a perfectionist and, in the way it's usually defined, I guess I am. In medicine, and certainly in surgery, you have to be as perfect as possible. There's no room for mistakes."

DeBakey was the first to perform obstructive lesions and replacement of arterial aneurysms in the mid-1950s. He later developed bypass pumps and connections to replace excised segments of diseased arteries. DeBakey literally had scores of patients under his care at any one time, helping to establish his name as a leading cardiovascular surgeon. He performed more than 60,000 heart surgeries during his 70-year career, The Methodist Hospital. DeBakey had said, "Man was born to work hard.”

His patients ranged from penniless peasants from the Third World to such famous figures as the Duke of Windsor, the Shah of Iran, King Hussein of Jordan, Turkish President Turgut Ozal, Nicaraguan Leader Violetta Chamorro and Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. He made headlines again in 1996 when he flew to Moscow to help examine ailing Russian President Boris Yeltsin and served as a consultant when he underwent surgery.

DeBakey served as chairperson of the President's Commission on Heart Disease, Cancer and Stroke during Johnson's administration and helped establish the National Library of Medicine. He was author of more than 1,000 medical reports, papers, chapters and books on surgery, medicine and related topics. DeBakey said that he loved his work very much. He loved it so much that I did not want to do anything else.

Baylor University College of Medicine was a fledgling medical school when DeBakey joined it in 1948, five years after it moved from Dallas to Houston. The Waco-based university later cut its ties to the school. However, DeBakey, as the medical school's president and later chancellor, had helped to establish its own identity.

In 1953, DeBakey performed the first Dacron graft to replace part of an occluded artery. In the 1960s, he began coronary arterial bypasses. In 1962, DeBakey received a $2.5 million grant to work on an artificial heart that could be implanted without being linked to an exterior console. In 1966, he was the first to use successfully a partial artificial heart, a left ventricular bypass pump.

Meanwhile, the effort to save lives through heart transplants was stalled. Dr. Christiaan Bernard in South Africa had performed the first human heart transplant in history in late 1967. In the United States, DeBakey was among those who began performing the transplants. However, death rates were high because the recipients' bodies rejected the new organs.

The advent of a new anti-rejection drug, cyclosporine, gave new impetus to organ transplants in the 1980s. In 1984, DeBakey performed his first heart transplant in 14 years. His work as an inventor continued. In the late 1990s, DeBakey brought out a ventricular assist device touted as one-tenth the size of current heart pumps that helped ease suffering for patients waiting for heart transplants. Moreover, in the late 1990s, he took an active role in creating the Michael E. DeBakey Heart Institute at Hays Medical Center in Hays, Kan.

No comments:

Useful Posts