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, died Friday night.
DeBakey counted world leaders among his patients and helped turn Baylor College of Medicine in Houston 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.
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 only a 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.
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.
In a rare interview published in December 2006, DeBakey gave The New York Times details of the operation on his damaged aorta earlier that year, when he was 97.
"It is a miracle," DeBakey said. "I really should not be here." He said he at first gambled that his aorta would heal on its own and refused to be admitted to a hospital, and was unresponsive and near death when his doctors and his wife decided to proceed, despite his age. He then spent several months in the hospital.
As he recovered, DeBakey told his doctors he was glad they had operated, despite his earlier refusals.
"If they hadn't done it, I'd be dead," he said.
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, DeBakey literally had scores of patients under his care at any one time, helping to establish his name as a leading cardiovascular surgeon. By 1992, he had performed more than 50,000 surgeries.
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.
"I always knew I wanted to be a doctor. I just didn't know what kind," DeBakey once said.
DeBakey's first wife, Diana Cooper DeBakey, died of a heart attack in 1972. Three years later, DeBakey married a German film actress, Katrin Fehlhaber.
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