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DeBakey a Pioneer of Cardiology — Houston Surgeon, 99, Treated Kings, Paupers

July 14, 2008

By John Porretto

HOUSTON – 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.

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 The Methodist Hospital.

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

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.

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

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

In early 2006, at the age of 97, DeBakey underwent surgery for a damaged aorta – a procedure he had developed.

“It is a miracle. I really should not be here,” DeBakey told The New York Times last year.

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Doctor and Patients

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

His patients ranged from penniless peasants 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 Kennedy, Johnson and 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.”

In 1996, he flew to Moscow to help examine ailing Russian President Boris Yeltsin and served as a consultant when Yeltsin underwent surgery.

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Originally published by John Porretto Associated Press .

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