Denton A. Cooley, MD, is surgeon in chief and president emeritus of the Texas Heart Institute. He is chief of Cardiovascular Surgery at St. Luke's Medical Center, consultant in Cardiovascular Surgery at Texas Children's Hospital and a clinical professor of Surgery at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston. Cooley was born in 1920 and raised in Houston, Texas. He graduated from the University of Texas in 1941 with highest honors and earned his medical degree from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1944. As an intern, he assisted Dr. Alfred Blaylock and Dr. Helen Taussig with the first "blue baby" operation, an arterial shunt procedure to alleviate the effects of tetralogy of Fallot, a congenital heart defect. After serving two years in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, he returned to Johns Hopkins to complete his surgical training. In 1950, he spent a year with Lord Russell Brock in London where he participated in the first intra-cardiac operations in England. He returned to Houston in 1951 to join the Department of Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine and Methodist Hospital. His collaboration with Dr. Michael DeBakey during the following nine years produced many innovations in vascular surgery; the relationship between the two, however, was never a comfortable one, and in 1960, Cooley moved his surgical practice to St. Luke's Hospital. In 1962, he founded the Texas Heart Institute. He stayed on the Baylor faculty until 1969, when a controversy developed over Cooley's implantation of a total artificial heart that DeBakey's team had designed. A world-renowned surgeon, Cooley has pioneered many techniques used in cardiovascular surgery, and devices such as artificial heart valves. He performed the first successful human heart transplant in the United States in 1968. Cooley and his associates have performed more than 118,800 open heart operations, more than any other group in the world. In this interview with Dr. Donald A. B. Lindberg, Dr. Cooley discusses his early surgical training at Johns Hopkins under Dr. Alfred Blalock, his early work with Dr. DeBakey, research on circulatory assist devices and artificial hearts, and the evolution of open heart surgery during his career. He reflects on his estrangement from Dr. DeBakey in the 1960s and their reconciliation shortly before DeBakey's death. He discusses the split between Baylor College of Medicine and the Methodist Hospital. He also talks more generally about changes in medicine and health care, and the future of cardiac surgery.
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