Houston Heart Surgeon Dr. Michael DeBakey Has Passed

Michael DeBakey's career spanned much of the 20th century, and he kept going into the 21st.ξ Beginning in the 1930s, DeBakey invented and perfected scores of medical devices and surgical procedures that have saved millions of lives.ξ He developed Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals for the army, MASH units, which saved thousands of soldiers' lives in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, but he's best known for his pioneering work in cardiovascular surgery.ξ He performed the first coronary bypass in the 1960s.ξ This led to the ventricular assist device that helps a weak heart keep working, and ultimately to heart transplant surgery.ξ In an interview with National Public Radio several years ago, DeBakey said doctors should never be satisfied with the way things are.

"We never take the attitude that it's as good as it gets. I mean, we're constantly seeking something better.ξ And that's what drives research.ξ I think it's important to do that, because it's very difficult to reach perfection in almost anything."

Michael Ellis DeBakey was born on September 7, 1908 in Lake Charles, Louisiana.ξ He got his medical degree from Tulane University in 1932, and joined the Tulane medical faculty in 1937.ξ After World War II, he moved to Baylor College of Medicine in Houston in 1948, and in a speech to the Texas Legislature in 1997, DeBakey explained why he came to Houston.

"I saw the opportunity to teach and conduct research, and care for my patients.ξ I saw a place where working hard and doing your best would be rewarded.ξ I saw the opportunity to try things that had never been tried before.ξ A place where creative imaginative innovations would be respected."ξξ
Over his career, DeBakey performed thousands of cardiovascular surgeries and trained thousands of surgeons who're practicing medicine around the world.ξ He's remembered by generations of medical students as a perfectionist who demanded the highest standards of professionalism, because, as he told NPR, the practice of medicine deserves nothing less.

"I think being a physician is one of the really great callings in human endeavor. One of the most satisfying careers you can have."ξ

In September of last year, Congress awarded DeBakey this nation's highest honor. The Congressional Gold Medal.ξ

Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.
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