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Dr. DeBakey, innovative heart surgeon, died last night.
July 12, 2008 10:32 AM   Subscribe

Dr. Michael E. DeBakey died last night a few months shy of 100 years old. The father of modern cardiovascular surgery, he extended the lives of thousands through multiple surgical innovations.

He died of natural causes at Methodist Hospital, the hospital he worked at well into his 90's, part of the Texas Medical Center, which his work helped establish as a center of medical and scholastic excellence during his lifetime.

Some of those innovations he created: the roller pump (while in med school in the 1930's) the central part of a heart-lung machine that made open heart surgery possible, the connection between smoking and lung cancer, Dacron grafts, MASH units, and techniques to repair a ruptured aorta (surgery he underwent himself at 97).

Among the over 60,000 patients he operated on in his lifetime: Marlene Dietrich, LBJ, Nixon, Boris Yeltsin, Jerry Lewis.

There's much love for him, but there was also some fear in those in the community who interacted with him. He was rumored to be a demanding professor as well as demanding to work with in the OR. His feud with Dr. Denton Cooley was dramatic and long - only recently reconciled late last year. His contributions to modern healthcare are undeniable.
posted by dog food sugar (36 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
&hearts
posted by horsemuth at 10:50 AM on July 12, 2008


Shit! it worked in preview!!! Oh well... thanks for everything, Dr. Debakey.
posted by horsemuth at 10:54 AM on July 12, 2008


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posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:55 AM on July 12, 2008


If I could have any man inside of me, this would've been the guy. This is the kind of guy that makes the zeitgeist theory of invention look like so much bullshit. Place him anywhere, in any time and he'd have changed the world.
posted by stavrogin at 10:58 AM on July 12, 2008



posted by sonic meat machine at 11:34 AM on July 12, 2008


One of the greatest men of the 20th Century.

Thank you doctor, and peace.

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posted by matteo at 11:36 AM on July 12, 2008


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posted by DreamerFi at 11:44 AM on July 12, 2008



posted by omarr at 11:44 AM on July 12, 2008


respects. HUGE respects.
posted by longsleeves at 11:54 AM on July 12, 2008


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posted by saslett at 12:00 PM on July 12, 2008


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posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:00 PM on July 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Even Dr. Cooley's descriptions command my respect.

It was said that DeBakey was too busy to ever attend a party, unless he was sure that a congressman might be present for whom he might squeeze another million-dollar grant for his work at Baylor Medical Center and at the Methodist Hospital in Houston.

He was damn right, too. Those grants saved lives.
posted by sondrialiac at 12:21 PM on July 12, 2008


Baylor College of Medicine has put together a nice collection of information, videos, interviews, lists of awards and touching memories from former patients and patient families. I thought the videos were interesting to see how much the Texas Medical Center has grown since DeBakey came to Baylor in 1948. Great to peruse if you're interested in this.

Methodist kept his illnesses secret whenever he was inpatient. Much of the TMC community was unaware he was dying. I think many expected him to keep going, keep working. This city is sad today.
posted by dog food sugar at 12:26 PM on July 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


From the "fear" link, for a second I pictured Dr. DeBakey as Gordon Ramsay in the OR, calling Marius Barnard a donkey and stuff. I mean yeah, Ramsay can cook a decent John Dory and risotto, but THIS GUY FIGURED OUT HOW TO FIX HEARTS for Christsake.

I figure if anyone can get away with being a jerk on occasion, this man should've been able to. He kinda earned the right to be cut some slack and allowed a healthy ego in the OR, I'm thinkin'. 'Cuz without some sizeable arrogance, how could anyone actually have had the confidence to believe they could singlehandedly change medical history the way he did? You'd have to have a bit of a God complex to seriously believe you can change nature and the way human beings look at anatomy and disease itself, wouldn't you?
posted by miss lynnster at 12:44 PM on July 12, 2008


Something that should be hilighted from the "underwent himself" link: DeBakey was a prime example of conflicts of end-of-life care; it seemed clear that he did not want additional intervention. Plenty of bioethics people were a-chattering about why a 97 year old was undergoing cardiothoracic surgery. Here is a smattering of what some people thought about it.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 12:44 PM on July 12, 2008


Also, what anyone would give to be so active and vital right to the end of a long life. Adieu good doctor.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 12:46 PM on July 12, 2008


"I still have an almost religious sense when I work on the heart. It is something God makes, and we have yet to duplicate."

Gee, he must know something Richard Dawkins doesn't. Or he just wasn't a "bright." You know. Dumb clod that ol' DeBakey was.
posted by Faze at 12:48 PM on July 12, 2008


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posted by aerotive at 1:07 PM on July 12, 2008


*hearts* and thanks.

One of the surgery's he created (heart bypass) saved my father when he had a heart attack at age 56.
posted by bluesky43 at 1:15 PM on July 12, 2008


bluesky -- Actually, the first coronary artery bypass was not done by DeBakey, but by Rene Favaloro at Cleveland Clinic in 1967. (Legend has it that DeBakey may have hastily improvised a bypass during an operation at some earlier date, but he never repeated or published it.)
posted by Faze at 1:37 PM on July 12, 2008


Here is a smattering of what some people thought about it.

Here is some additional discussion on his surgery. I would also add that many others could be called "the father of open heart surgery"; C. Walton Lillehei, for one (note the byline in the link). Rene Favaloro is generally given credit for inventing coronary artery bypass grafting.

Despite that he is indeed worthy of all the accolades he has gotten. One of the most common instruments the surgeon requests in any OR are the forceps he invented. Perhaps not as impressive as some of his other work, yet myself and many others think of him several times a day when we hear his name.
posted by TedW at 1:41 PM on July 12, 2008


Gee, he must know something Richard Dawkins doesn't. Or he just wasn't a "bright." You know. Dumb clod that ol' DeBakey was.

Do you understand what the word "almost" means? Or do you think that statement shows DeBakey was truly an ID advocate or creationist?

I mean, I have no idea but lots of people refer to god rhetorically without meaning to endorse any particular theology, or to denigrate non-believers as you seem to want to do.
posted by delmoi at 2:06 PM on July 12, 2008


Dr. Michael E. DeBakey died last night a few months shy of 100 years old. The father of modern cardiovascular surgery, he extended the lives of thousands through multiple surgical innovations.

You wouldn't know it from the Tony Snow love-fest on CNN.
posted by Artw at 2:44 PM on July 12, 2008


I see on rereading that he is being called not "the father of heart surgery" as I mistakenly quoted but "the father of modern cardiovascular surgery"; for that honor I would put forth Alexis Carrel. I mention this not to detract from his work but to put it in context; he built (greatly) on the innovators that came before him and many people outside of medicine do not know who they were.
posted by TedW at 2:56 PM on July 12, 2008


Thanks for this post. Not being a student of medical history, I didn't know anything about the man before today.

Far, far, far more interesting and important a figure than Tony Snow
posted by uri at 3:19 PM on July 12, 2008


DeBakey's exact quote about the heart is that "it is something God makes." That's not a rhetorical device, it's a statement of belief. And believing in God doesn't mean you're a creationist. I've met more than a few God-believing heart surgeons. (And a few acted like they were gods themselves.)
posted by Faze at 3:20 PM on July 12, 2008


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posted by shakespeherian at 3:23 PM on July 12, 2008


I actually had an aortic aneurysm repair done last year by Dr. Joseph Coselli, who is now one of the leading experts in the procedure created by Dr. DeBakey, so I feel doubly or triply or perhaps just eternally compelled to say: .
posted by xmutex at 3:29 PM on July 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


as one who has learned the near-infinite worth of a good cardiologist first-hand:

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Although I will forever be a little worried about how disappointed my heart doctor sounded when he came to the conclusion that I didn't need invasive surgery
posted by wendell at 4:13 PM on July 12, 2008


amazing guy.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:42 PM on July 12, 2008


Far, far, far more interesting and important a figure than Tony Snow

Absolutely

You wouldn't know it from the Tony Snow love-fest on CNN.


Or, unfortunately, the relative activity in their respective threads here. But I am glad to see some people have their priorities straight.
posted by TedW at 2:25 AM on July 13, 2008


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I, too, was surprised when I watched the networks' news yesterday and more attention paid to Snow than to DeBakey. One man will go down in history; the other will likely be forgotten.
posted by Robert Angelo at 8:47 AM on July 13, 2008


I shall always think of him when handling DeBakey forceps--used in most operations today. RIP
posted by 6:1 at 12:01 PM on July 13, 2008


There's something so satisfying about the fact that a man who extended the lives and improved the health of so many got to enjoy a long and healthy life himself.
posted by orange swan at 2:39 PM on July 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


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posted by orthogonality at 4:11 PM on July 13, 2008


I had the opportunity to see Dr. DeBakey speak twice. The second was at research symposium, during which he described how his artificial arterial grafts came to be:

He ventured to the local hardware store to buy some nylon to sew some grafts (originally with his wife's sewing machine). The clerk informed him that they were fresh out of nylon, but, as DeBakey says in his Louisiana drawl, "Providence was smilin' on me." The clerk insisted he should try a similar material, Dacron, which had just arrived at the store.

The Dacron worked like a charm. Researchers spent many unsuccessful years trying to make nylon work, and DeBakey's grafts and procedure became the standard. It seemed so atypical of a man of his stature (and pride) to admit the role luck played in his rise to medical stardom.

Though he was very ill the past year, he insisted on attending the convocation at BCM. It was a gesture that blew all of us away, and we'll never forget it. He wore his pajamas under his white coat, it was fantastic. We won't forget that either.


I don't know if this has been posted: Esquire - What I've Learned: Michael DeBakey

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posted by sicem07 at 11:32 PM on July 13, 2008 [3 favorites]


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