Celebrate All Scientists: Michael Ellis DeBakey, MD

Celebrate All Scientists

April is Arab American Heritage Month and today LSC is celebrating Michael DeBakey, MD, a pioneering heart surgeon.

Dr. Michael DeBakey, the son of Lebanese immigrants, was born in Louisiana in 1908. He became interested in medicine while listening to physicians chat at his father's pharmacy. As a young man, he went to medical school but wasn’t sure what area of medicine to pursue. Then, the first time he saw a human heart beating, DeBakey declared it a work of art. He decided to focus on figuring out the heart’s mysteries and keeping it healthy for as long as possible. "I guess it's the same gratification an artist gets from painting a beautiful painting, a poet gets from writing a beautiful poem," he once said.

While still in med school, DeBakey developed an integral part of heart-lung machines known as the roller pump. The machine takes over the function of the heart and lungs during surgery. He was also the first to perform a successful vascular surgery to help potential stroke patients avoid having a stroke.

DeBakey was a pioneer in the effort to develop artificial hearts and heart pumps to assist patients waiting for transplants, and helped to invent more than 70 surgical instruments during his career. In 1962, he received a $2.5 million grant to work on an artificial heart that could be implanted without being linked to an exterior power source. In 1966, he was the first to successfully use a partial artificial heart—a left ventricular bypass pump.

DeBakey died at the age of 99 in 2008. Throughout his 70+ year career as a surgeon, he was honored with the National Medal of Science, the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. "I'm accused of being a perfectionist and, in the way it's usually defined, I guess I am,” DeBakey once told the Associated Press. “In medicine, and certainly in surgery, you have to be as perfect as possible. There's no room for mistakes."

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