7/12/2008

The Storm Passes

It is impossible to ever have worked in surgery and not know the name Michael DeBakey. After all, on almost every procedure you will use "DeBakey Forceps" an instrument used for picking up and handling tissue better known as "DeBakeys". If you're working on chest trauma you're going to probably use a DeBakey clamp to shut off the blood flow on large arteries like the Aorta.

But beyond the instruments you will hear surgeons talk about the "Texas Tornado" and his legendary temper and his almost God like skill in surgery.

Michael DeBakey enjoyed one of the longest active careers of any surgeon. He was born in 1908 in Lake Charles, Louisiana and his drawl was famous among surgical residents who endured his biting criticism when performing poorly in the O.R.

During World War II he worked with the Surgeon General's office and helped to develop the Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals (M.A.S.H.)

In 1948 he took a position at Baylor in Houston, Texas. From there he would achieve some of the greatest advancements in cardiac surgery. He developed artificial grafts to replace diseased or damaged arteries. He developed one of the first artificial hearts which led to his famous feud with the other great cardiac surgeon Dr. Denton Cooley. DeBakey claimed that Cooley's artificial heart design had been stolen from the one under development at Baylor. Cooley had previously worked for DeBakey on the development of the design and after review the American College of Surgeons took DeBakey's part and censured Cooley.

DeBakey's nickname, "The Texas Tornado" came about both by benefit of his legendary temper and also because of his legendary work ethic. DeBakey dedicated his life to surgery and his patients. His temper was usually triggered by inefficiency or errors on the part of his residents on whom he depended to handle his massive case load.

Dr. DeBakey died Friday night at the Methodist Hospital in Houston. He had practiced at Methodist since its split with Baylor in 2004.

''You fight (death) all the time, and you never really can accept it," he once said. ''You know in reality that everybody is going to die, but you try to fight it, to push it away, hold it away with your hands."

DeBakey was preceded in death by his sons, Houston lawyer Ernest O. DeBakey, who died in 2004, and Barry E. DeBakey, who died in 2007. In addition to his wife, Katrin, and their daughter, Olga, DeBakey is survived by sons Michael DeBakey of Lima, Peru, and Denis DeBakey, of Houston; brother Dr. Ernest G. DeBakey, of Mobile, Ala., and sisters Lois and Selma DeBakey, both medical editors and linguists at Baylor.

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