Birthday: September 7, 1908
Died At Age: 99
Sun Sign: Virgo
Born in: Louisiana
Famous as: Cardiac Surgeon
Spouse/Ex-: Diana Cooper (died 1972), Katrin Fehlhaber
father: Shaker Dabaghi
mother: Raheeja Dabaghi
Died on: July 11, 2008
place of death: Houston, Texas
U.S. State: Louisiana
awards: Presidential Medal of Freedom (1969)
Lomonosov Gold Medal (2003)
Congressional Gold Medal (2008)
A pioneer in surgery, American cardiovascular surgeon Michael DeBakey was a physician, scientist, and innovator, all rolled into one. He is the inventor of the Roller-pump that makes it possible to provide continuous supply of blood during operations. This invention was a milestone in cardiac surgery, as open-heart surgery would have been impossible without the use of this pump. Even as a young boy he knew that he wanted to be in the medical profession. Curious and intelligent from an early age, he had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and loved to invent things. This innate curiosity in him led him to invent many surgical devices later in his life as a medical doctor. Over a long career spanning over seven decades, Dr. DeBakey revolutionized the field of cardiology in ways too numerous to count. During his stint with the army, he helped to develop the mobile army surgical hospital (MASH) units which facilitated the fast transportation of wounded soldiers to surgical hospitals. Often regarded as one of the greatest surgeons of his time, he is credited to have performed over 60,000 operations. He was also famous for being called to treat world leaders like President Boris N. Yeltsin of Russia.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born to Lebanese immigrants Shaker and Raheeja Dabaghi who later changed their surname to DeBakey.
He was a bright and curious little boy who realized his interest in studying medicine at an early age. He had four younger siblings.
He received his BS degree from Tulane University in 1930 and completed his MD degree from the University’s School of Medicine in 1932. He completed his internship and residency in surgery at Charity Hospital.
As a student he devised the roller-pump which takes over the functions of the heart and lungs during surgery and provides a continuous supply of blood to the brain.
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He joined the surgical faculty at the Tulane Medical School in 1937 and served there till 1948. In 1939, along with his mentor Alton Ochsner, he made the link between cigarette smoking and cancer. This finding though ridiculed at that same was proven to be true later on through additional studies.
In 1942, he volunteered for military service during World War II and was assigned to the Surgical Consultant’s Division of the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office.
Over the course of his military career he helped to develop Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) Units which were used to transport wounded soldiers from the war front to the hospitals. These helped to improve the survival rates of soldiers considerably.
After the World War II, he joined the Baylor University College of Medicine as a faculty in 1948 and served as Chairman of the Department of Surgery until 1993. He was also the president of the college for ten years from 1969 to 1979.
A pioneer in cardiac surgery, he was among the first surgeons who performed coronary artery bypass surgery. He performed the first successful carotid endarterectomy in 1953.
He was not afraid to experiment and used Dacron grafts to replace blood vessels. Again the medical fraternity viewed him with skepticism, but he persevered and proved that Dacron grafts were excellent substitutes for live tissues.
Another one of the firsts he achieved was the filming of surgeries on film. During the 1960s he made a camera operator film the surgery from the surgeon’s point of view without disturbing the surgery in progress.
President Johnson appointed him as the chairman of the President’s Commission on Heart Diseases, Cancer and Stroke in 1964. This helped to raise standards of care for these diseases.
He served as the chairman of the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation’s medical research awards jury from 1964 to 1994.
He was a very popular surgeon and was often called to treat world famous personalities including the presidents of various countries. He advised Russian president Boris Yeltsin and US Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon even though he was on Nixon’s enemy list!
Working with Robert Jarvik, he helped to develop the Jarvik artificial heart which was first implanted in a human in 1982. He remained active throughout his life and during the 1990s he worked with NASA engineers to develop a heart pump so small that it could be used in children.
Considered one of the greatest ever cardiologists, Dr. DeBakey performed over 60,000 operations over his highly successful career. Because of his immense popularity he was regularly called to attend to ailing world leaders like Russian President Boris Yeltsin and U.S. Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon.
Awards & Achievements
He was honored with the American Medical Association Hektoen Gold Medal twice in his career (1954 and 1970).
He was bestowed with the International Society of Surgery Distinguished Service Award in 1958 in recognition of his innumerable contributions to the field of cardiac surgery.
He was awarded the Denton A. Cooley Leadership Award in 2009 becoming the first posthumous recipient of the prestigious award.
Personal Life & Legacy
His first marriage was to Diana Cooper who died of a heart attack in 1972. He tied the knot again with German actress Katrin Fehlhaber. He had a total of four sons and a daughter from both his marriages.
He lived a long life and was active well into his nineties. During his last years he suffered from heart problems and his team operated on him using the very techniques he had developed. He died of natural causes at the age 99 in 2008.