Michael Ellis DeBakey

The American surgeon Michael Ellis DeBakey (born 1908) devised procedures for replacing diseased portions of the aorta, and was a leader in the devel opment of the artificial heart.

Michael DeBakey was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, on September 7, 1908. From early on he had a keen interest in biology, and he received his bachelor of science degree in 1930, his medical degree in 1932, and a master of science degree for research on peptic ulcers in 1935, from Tulane University. He then served as a medical resident in Europe at the universities of Strasbourg and Heidelberg. He married Diana Cooper on Oct. 15, 1936.

In 1937, DeBakey became a member of the Tulane faculty. Except for service during World War II in the Surgeon General's Office, where he rose to become chief of the surgery consultants division, he remained at Tulane until 1948. DeBakey had already become an expert in blood transfusion and had developed a roller-type pump for use in transfusions. It became an important component of the heart-lung machine.

In 1948 DeBakey was appointed professor of surgery at Baylor University College of Medicine in Houston, Tex. A year later he assumed responsibilities as surgeon in chief at Houston's Ben Taub General Hospital. In the 1950s DeBakey originated complex surgical procedures for the correction of aneurysms and blockages of the aorta involving replacing the diseased part with Dacron tubing.

The work for which DeBakey is best known involves the artificial heart. He initially concentrated on developing a left ventricular bypass (half an artificial heart) and in 1967 successfully implanted his device. He worked toward the development of a completely artificial heart and believed that such a heart was the ultimate answer to human heart replacement in spite of others' interest in heart transplantation.

In 1969 a former colleague, Dr. Denton Cooley, implanted a completely artificial heart in a human. Since Cooley had worked closely with DeBakey and because he was assisted by Dr. Domingo Liotta, who had worked with DeBakey on the artificial heart, DeBakey claimed priority of development. Cooley's artificial heart was not successful, and DeBakey held that much more work was needed to perfect the device.

DeBakey earned numerous awards and honors. In 1963, he received the prestigious Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Research. The next year, he served on the President's Commission on Heart Disease, Cancer and Stroke. This Commission recommended, among other things, the establishment of intensive-care centers for these diseases and community centers for diagnosis. He received the Medal of Freedom with Distinction in 1969, and the Presidential Medal of Science in 1987. In 1976 his students from around the world established the Michael E. DeBakey International Surgical Society, and Baylor University founded the Michael E. Debakey Center for Biomedical Education and the DeBakey Lectureship. DeBakey has authored well over one thousand published medical-scientific articles and more extensive works. His books include Battle Casualties, Incidence, Mortality, and Logistic Considerations (1952) with G. W. Beebe and Cold Injury, Ground Type (1958) with T. F Whayne.

In addition to his other positions DeBakey was chairman of the Department of Medicine at Methodist Hospital in Houston, physician in chief at the Fondren-Brown Cardiovascular Research Center, and director of the DeBakey Heart Center of Baylor and Methodist Hospital. In 1996, DeBakey again achieved international repute serving as consultant to the surgeons who performed heart bypass surgery on Russian President Boris Yeltsin.


Further Reading on Michael Ellis DeBakey

The greatest compilation of DeBakey's research can be found in his own The Living Heart, as well as in its sequels, The Living Heart's Shopper's Guide and The Living Heart's Guide to Eating Out. DeBakey's work is briefly discussed in Richard Hardaway Meade, An Introduction to the History of General Surgery (1968), and Robert G. Richardson, Surgery: Old and New Frontiers (1969), which is a revised and enlarged edition of The Surgeon's Tale (1958).