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Pioneering Heart Surgeon Michael DeBakey Dies at 99

Michael DeBakey, the prolific and influential heart surgeon who performed the first successful bypass operation, died July 11 in Houston at age 99. DeBakey's colleague and former student looks back on his medical legacy.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    And finally tonight, remembering a giant in the world of heart surgery and medicine. Judy Woodruff has the story.

  • PRESENTER:

    Dr. Michael Ellis DeBakey…

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Just three months ago, Dr. Michael DeBakey sat in the Rotunda of the Capitol to receive the Congressional Gold Medal. President Bush was among those paying tribute to DeBakey's pioneering work in cardiovascular surgery and research.

    GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: He has dedicated his career to a truly noble ambition: bettering the life of his fellow men.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    DeBakey thanked Congress for what would be the last of many high honors he received over his long career.

  • DR. MICHAEL DEBAKEY, Cardiovascular Surgery Pioneer:

    Since receiving this award, my cup runneth over. Thank you very much.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Michael DeBakey was born in Louisiana to Lebanese immigrants in 1908. As a student, he showed a gift for innovation that would endure.

    In the early 1930s, he devised the roller pump, which would later become the essential component of the heart-lung machine, taking over the functions of those organs during operations. It signaled the dawning of the era of open-heart surgery.

    He would go on to design more than 70 medical devices, including in 1953 the Dacron tube, used to repair damaged arteries. He sewed the first one.

  • DR. MICHAEL DEBAKEY:

    My mother was an expert at sewing, so she's taught me to sew.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    In the 1960s, DeBakey was among the first to do coronary bypass surgery. In all, he performed more than 60,000 heart surgeries during a career that lasted into his 90s.

    His notable patients ran the gamut from presidents to prize fighters, Lyndon Johnson, Joe Louis, Boris Yeltsin. The comedian Jerry Lewis was a repeat patient.

  • JERRY LEWIS, Comedian:

    You've saved my life three times.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Dr. Michael DeBakey died Friday evening at age 99 in a Houston hospital, where the heart and vascular unit bears his name.

    And for more, we turn to Dr. Kenneth Mattox, a colleague and former student of Dr. DeBakey. He's now the chief of surgery at Ben Taub Hospital and a professor of surgery at the Baylor College of Medicine, both in Houston.

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