- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 13, 2008

HOUSTON (AP) | 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.

Dr. DeBakey died Friday night at the Methodist Hospital in Houston from “natural causes,” according to a statement issued early Saturday by Baylor College of Medicine and Methodist Hospital.

Dr. DeBakey counted world leaders among his patients and helped turn Baylor from a provincial school into one of the nation’s top medical institutions.

“Dr. DeBakey’s reputation brought many people into this institution, and he treated them all: heads of state, entertainers, businessmen and presidents, as well as people with no titles and no means,” said Ron Girotto, president of the Methodist Hospital System.

Mr. Girotto said the surgeon “has improved the human condition and touched the lives of generations to come.”

While still in medical school in 1932, he invented the roller pump, 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 heart and lungs during surgery.

It was the start of a lifetime of innovation. The surgical procedures that Dr. DeBakey developed once were the wonders of the medical world. Today, they are commonplace procedures in most hospitals. He 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.

On Saturday, former colleagues and other medical professionals gathered at the still-incomplete DeBakey Library on the Baylor College of Medicine to remember Dr. DeBakey as a “medical statesman” and perhaps the most prominent doctor in the world in the second half of the 20th century.

“He took risks that others might not take to advance medicine and to prove the value of the procedures,” said Dr. Bobby R. Alford, chancellor of the Baylor College of Medicine. “He had impeccable judgment.”

“Millions of people are alive today because of the prior work of Dr. DeBakey for the past 60 years,” said Dr. Marc Boom, executive vice president of Methodist Hospital.

In early 2006, at age 97, Dr. DeBakey underwent surgery for a damaged aorta - a procedure he had developed.

Dr. DeBakey was the first to perform replacement of arterial aneurysms and obstructive lesions in the mid-1950s. He later developed bypass pumps and connections to replace excised segments of diseased arteries.

A tireless worker and a stern taskmaster, Dr. DeBakey had scores of patients under his care at any one time. He performed more than 60,000 heart surgeries during his 70-year career, Methodist Hospital said.

His patients ranged from the penniless 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 John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon.

But he said celebrities didn’t get special treatment on the operating table: “Once you incise the skin, you find that they are all very similar.”

Dr. 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. He recalled in 1999 that at the time he finished medical school in 1932, “there was virtually nothing you could do for heart disease. If a patient came in with a heart attack, it was up to God.”

Dr. DeBakey’s first wife, Diana Cooper DeBakey, died of a heart attack in 1972.

Dr. DeBakey is survived by his second wife, Katrin Fehlhaber, their daughter, and two of his four sons from his first marriage.

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