July 14, 2008

Victoria Advocate, Texas, Jim Bishop Column

By Jim Bishop, Victoria Advocate, Texas

Jul. 13--Ah, how skillful grows the hand that obeyeth love's command!

...And he who followeth love's behest far excelleth all the rest.

I have to go back a long way to recall the first time I met Dr. Michael DeBakey. It was in the halls of The Methodist Hospital in the wee hours of the morning.

It was more than 40 years ago, and I was a thoroughly intimidated young reporter of 23 or so, standing as I was in the presence of perhaps the most renowned heart surgeon on Earth.

And why shouldn't I be intimidated? This was, after all, a man who had just successfully cut the beating, but sickly heart out of a man and replaced it with a healthy one, all the while keeping him alive.

It was only by chance that I found myself at the Texas Medical Center in Houston that early morning. I was just a cub police reporter, but it so happened that Dr. DeBakey did his pioneering heart transplant surgeries all late at night, and I was the only reporter still on duty at The Houston Post. So, I was the lucky one who got the call from the night city editor to go and cover this momentous event in American medical history.

My memory of this great doctor was that he must have been a most learned physician, but he was not overly friendly.

His face was pretty stern and, not surprisingly, he looked very tired. After all, who knows how many hours he'd been up?

He rolled off a lot of medical jargon, of which I knew almost nothing, and then I went on my way to quickly write a story for our five-star street sales edition.

This happened several times, as I recall, and I got more literate with the medical stuff, but I remained in awe of this doctor through every one of his brief press briefings.

And, I can say, I was genuinely saddened to hear of his passing at age 99 on Friday night.

I read in the Associated Press obituary on Dr. DeBakey that he performed some 60,000 varied heart surgeries in his medical tenure, which spanned three-quarters of a century.

And I pay homage to this giant of the medical profession, who not only saved many lives with his own surgical skills, but perhaps millions of others with the skills, machines and procedures he passed on to his many students --and their students --and so on.

This surgeon, who used his skills to save the lives of world leaders and common folk alike, will be missed to a degree that is impossible to fathom.

He may not have been the friendliest man I ever met, but what he did for any human being with heart disease proved one great thing: Dr. Michael E. DeBakey had a big, big heart.

Jim Bishop is a senior editor for the Advocate.


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