Michael E. DeBakey, M.D.
Pioneer, Innovator, Miracle Maker, Samaritan
Michael Ellis DeBakey is internationally recognized as a pioneer of modern medicine. An ingenious medical inventor and innovator, a gifted and dedicated teacher, a premier surgeon, and an international medical statesman, Dr. DeBakey is relentlessly pursuing new avenues in which modern technology can be applied to the practice of healing and saving lives.
This prolific surgeon and humanitarian has performed more than 60,000 cardiovascular procedures and has trained thousands of surgeons who practice around the world. In 1976, his students founded the Michael E. DeBakey International Surgical Society. His name is affixed to a number of organizations, centers for learning, and projects devoted to medical education and health education for the general public.
Dr. DeBakey has received numerous honorary degrees from prestigious colleges and universities, as well as innumerable awards from educational institutions, professional and civic organizations, and governments worldwide. In 1969, he received the highest honor a United States citizen can receive – the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan awarded the National Medal of Science to DeBakey.
A Lifetime of Imagination and Dedication
Texas Medical Center News – Article
Vol. 20, No. 19 – October 15, 1998
During this first year in Houston, Dr. DeBakey was admitting his private patients to Hermann Hospital and The Methodist Hospital, an old building located on Main Street close to downtown. His relationship with the Methodist administration and nurses grew warm. The hospital’s administrator, Ted Bowen, allowed Dr. DeBakey to create a new type of ward at the hospital, an intensive care unit with nurses specially trained by the surgeon and cardiologists on staff. It was a radical idea, so radical in fact that within weeks other surgeons were asking Dr. DeBakey if their patients could be admitted to his unit. In 1953 the hospital decided to move to a new facility in the Texas Medical Center. The years 1953-54 marked a turning point in cardiovascular surgery. Working at home on his wife’s sewing machine, Dr. DeBakey constructed the first Dacron artificial artery to replace the damaged segments of artery. In 1953, Dr. DeBakey began operating on the aorta, and in a series of operations he brought heart surgery into a new age. He completed the first successful removal and graft replacement of an aneurysm (a swelling caused by weakness in the artery wall) on the descending aorta. Also in 1953, Dr. DeBakey performed the first successful endarterectomy, or removal of a blockage of the carotid artery, the main artery of the neck which carries blood to the brain, demonstrating an effective treatment for stroke. In early 1954, he performed a successful resection and graft on the ascending aorta, using a heart-lung machine developed in his laboratory. Later in 1954, he performed another successful resection and graft on the section of the aorta which curves over the top of the heart. He had shown that the diseases of the aorta could be successfully treated by surgery.
In the early 1960s, Dr. DeBakey began a warm relationship with President Lyndon Johnson. The President tried to persuade him to join his administration as Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, but the surgeon respectfully declined and offered instead to serve as a consultant. Dr. DeBakey worked a great deal on legislation with the President and legislators. Knowing that Medicare would be of benefit to the elderly, he supported it and encouraged President Johnson to get the legislation passed; it was very unpopular with many other physicians. Johnson became his patient, and secretly came to Houston for examinations. Dr. DeBakey’s statesmanship was very much in evidence in 1968. Baylor University College of Medicine was in a financial crisis. He proposed that the college of medicine separate itself from Baylor University in Waco and establish a board of trustees composed of Houston business and civic leaders. With the support of the university and the Southern Baptist Convention, the medical school received a charter from the State of Texas. Dr. DeBakey became the school’s first president and, with a new and committed board of trustees, $30 million was raised and the school’s debt cancelled. Dr. DeBakey began recruiting some of the nation’s most talented physicians, researchers and administrators to the school. Twenty years after he came to what he would later call a “third-rate school” he was now head of a medical college that was destined to become one of the very best in the nation.