Texas sur­geon im­planted world’s 1st ar­ti­fi­cial heart

Baltimore Sun - - OBITUARIES FROM PAGE ONE - By Juan A. Lozano

HOUS­TON — Dr. Den­ton Cooley, the car­dio­vas­cu­lar sur­geon who per­formed some of the na­tion’s first heart trans­plants and im­planted the world’s first ar­ti­fi­cial heart, died Fri­day. He was 96.

A lead­ing prac­ti­tioner of the coro­nary by­pass op­er­a­tion, Cooley con­trib­uted to the de­vel­op­ment of tech­niques to re­pair and re­place dis­eased heart valves and was renowned for op­er­a­tions to cor­rect con­gen­i­tal heart prob­lems in in­fants and chil­dren.

He per­formed one of the first suc­cess­ful hu­man heart trans­plants in the U.S. in 1968 and im­planted the world’s first ar­ti­fi­cial heart in 1969 as a tem­po­rary mea­sure while a heart trans­plant was ar­ranged.

Cooley died at his Hous­ton home sur­rounded by fam­ily, said Jenn Ja­come, a spokes­woman for Texas Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal, where he had worked ear­lier in his ca­reer. Lin­den Emer­son, a spokes­woman for the Texas Heart In­sti­tute in Hous­ton, which Cooley founded, also con­firmed Cooley’s death.

Cooley had con­tin­ued to work de­spite de­clin­ing health over the last year and was at his of­fice at the Texas Heart In­sti­tute as re­cently as Mon­day, Ja­come said.

“The heart is truly a re­mark­able or­gan,” Cooley said in 1989, “and de­vel­op­ing a per­fect sub­sti­tute is go­ing to be a chal­lenge not only for this gen­er­a­tion, but for gen­er­a­tions of re­searchers to come.”

He also pi­o­neered tech­niques for the re­pair of aneurysms of the aorta.

He had a long­time feud with fel­low Texan Dr. Michael DeBakey that ended only a year be­fore DeBakey died in 2008, at age 99. Both doc­tors pi­o­neered key tech­niques to help heart pa­tients. They both earned na­tional and in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tions, too, mak­ing head­lines and at­tract­ing rich and fa­mous pa­tients.

Cooley was born in 1920, the son of a wealthy Hous­ton den­tist. He grad­u­ated from the Univer­sity of Texas in 1941 and earned his med­i­cal de­gree from Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity School of Medicine in 1944.

“Den­ton’s pioneering con­tri­bu­tions to medicine are, of course, leg­end,” for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush, who lives in Hous­ton, said in a state­ment.

The same year he earned his med­i­cal de­gree, Cooley as­sisted Dr. Al­fred Blalock in the first “blue baby” op­er­a­tion to cor­rect an in­fant’s con­gen­i­tal heart de­fect, which helped pave the way for mod­ern heart surgery.

In 1951, Cooley joined Bay­lor Col­lege of Medicine at Hous­ton’s Methodist Hospi­tal, where he was ap­pointed a sur­gi­cal in­struc­tor un­der DeBakey.

Cooley moved to Texas Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal in the mid-1950s where he be­gan a se­ries of heart op­er­a­tions on chil­dren. He founded the Texas Heart In­sti­tute as part of St. Luke’s Epis­co­pal Hospi­tal in 1962, when he and DeBakey made a for­mal split.

Cooley’s in­sti­tute re­search team be­came widely rec­og­nized for the de­vel­op­ment and test­ing of heart as­sist de­vices for pa­tients await­ing trans­plants.

In May 1968, Cooley sewed the heart of a 15year- old into Everett Thomas, a 47-year-old ac­coun­tant from Phoenix. Thomas later re­ceived a sec­ond trans­plant, and he lived about seven months — mak­ing him the first U.S. heart trans­plant re­cip­i­ent to be well enough to go home from the hospi­tal.

In April 1969, Cooley im­planted the world’s first ar­ti­fi­cial heart into 47-yearold Haskell Karp as a tem­po­rary mea­sure while a trans­plant was ar­ranged. Karp lived 65 hours un­til the trans­plant was per­formed, but died of pneu­mo­nia a day and a half later.

The op­er­a­tion widened the rift with DeBakey, who al­leged that Cooley took the heart used in Karp from his lab­o­ra­tory.

Cooley and DeBakey made amends in 2007, when Cooley pre­sented DeBakey with a life­time achieve­ment award.

Among his hon­ors, Cooley re­ceived the Pres­i­den­tial Medal of Free­dom, the na­tion’s high­est civil­ian award, from Pres­i­dent Ronald Rea­gan in 1984.


Dr. Den­ton Cooley also per­formed one of the first suc­cess­ful hu­man heart trans­plants in the U.S. in 1968.

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