Thursday, July 11, 2013

Remembering Dr. Michael DeBakey September 7, 1908 - July 11, 2008

When we think of the working of the human heart, the first person I think of is Dr. Michael E. DeBakey, the world renowned heart surgeon, scientist, educator and medical statesman whose own heart ceased on July 11, 2008 at the age of 99 from aortic dissection but continues to live in the lives of hundreds of heart patients that he cared for over many decades of his medical practice.

DeBakey was born Michael Dabaghi in Lake Charles, Louisiana and was the son of Lebanese immigrants.  While still in the Tulane University medical school, DeBakey developed the roller pump that became an essential component of the heart-lung machine  that in turn made open-heart surgery possible.  He was one of the first to perform coronary artery bypass surgery and the first to perform the first successful carotid endarterectomy.   He was a pioneer in the development of the artificial heart and the first to perform a successful patch-graft angioplasty.  He developed the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) unit.  He pioneered the use of Dacron grafts to both repair and replace blood vessels and his developments and inventions go on and on.  He served the United States in his medical capacity during both the Hoover and Johnson administrations.

DeBakey spent his career at the Baylor University College of Medicine having been the director of "The Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center and senior attending surgeon at The Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas.  He was responsible for the training of more than 1000 surgeons and performed over 60000 cardiovascular surgeries.  Never once did he ask if a patient could pay for his services and believed that every patient should receive equal treatment.

Over his career, he received numerous awards and honors from his colleagues as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969.  President Ronald Reagan awarded him the National Medal of Science in 1987.

On the private side of DeBakey's life, he taught himself to play the clarinet and used it as a tool to relax following a pressured day.

He authored more than 1300 published medical articles and was co-author of the best selling books "The Living Heart", "The Living Heart Shopper's Guide" and "The Living Heart Guide to Eating Out".

Following DeBakey's death, his two hour memorial service was held at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston, Texas. (photos of programs pictured)  The church was standing room only and it is estimated that over 1800 people joined to celebrate his life.  Eleven speakers including the famed Dr. Robert Schuller and a number of family members and colleagues spoke of the importance of Michael DeBakey's life.  Dr. Boom, a colleague of DeBakey's quoted one of DeBakey's admirers "The nobility of a healer lies in his greatness of heart for his patients.  Rest in peace, great healer of hearts."

  Following the traditional service, it was followed by a jazz funeral led by the Young Tuxedo Brass Band and those in attendance marched to "When the Saints Go Marching In"with the mourners in
the pews clapping their hands and swaying to the beat.

Dr. DeBakey was laid to rest in the Arlington National Cemetery on Friday, July 18, 2008.

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