Saturday, July 12, 2008

All Heart

Dr. Michael DeBakey died last night in Texas at the age of 99.

What is there to say about this great, great man. At the time of his graduation from medical school in 1932, there was, by his own account, "nothing you could do about heart disease." At this point, he had invented a pump that, rather than emitting a compression-driven pulse of spray, used rollers to emit a steady, consistent stream. He felt there was a medical use for this device, though it would take twenty more years before the roller pump became the central component for the heart-lung machine, which made open-heart surgery possible. Not incidentally, by the end of the twentieth century, the roller pump had also been developed as an indispensable tool for agricultural and industrial uses as well.

For the next nearly 70 years after his graduation from medical school, DeBakey dedicated himself to developing new techniques and procedures -- as well as the tools, such as clamps and forceps delicate enough for the human heart -- that changed the face of cardiology and cardiac surgery forever.

In his lifetime, it is estimated that DeBakey had performed over 50,000 surgeries himself ("Man was meant to work hard," he once told an interviewer), and as an educator, touched millions of lives. In fact, DeBakey saved his own life, in 2006, when he underwent surgery on his damaged aorta, his surgeons employing a technique that he invented. The surgery and recovery were difficult for a man in his late 90's, but DeBakey felt sure it had saved his life.

DeBakey altered the way the medical profession treats cardiac health care. He has given millions of people the gifts of hope, health and time. Every time someone you love undergoes an angioplasty or a bypass, say a little "thank you" to this amazing pioneering spirit.

~C~

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