The Scientific Activist

Death of a Pioneer

Legendary heart surgeon Michael DeBakey passed away Friday night at the age of 99. From the Houston Chronicle:

Medical statesman, chancellor emeritus of Baylor College of Medicine, and a surgeon at The Methodist Hospital since 1949, DeBakey trained thousands of surgeons over several generations, achieving legendary status decades before his death. During his career, he estimated he had performed more than 60,000 operations. His patients included the famous — Russian President Boris Yeltsin and movie actress Marlene Dietrich among them — and the uncelebrated.

“Dr. DeBakey singlehandedly raised the standard of medical care, teaching and research around the world,” said Dr. George Noon, a cardiovascular surgeon and longtime partner of DeBakey’s. “He was the greatest surgeon of the 20th century, and physicians everywhere are indebted to him for his contributions to medicine.”

Debakey almost died in 2006, when he suffered an aortic aneurysm, a condition for which he pioneered the treatment. He is considered the oldest patient to have both undergone and survived surgery for it. He recovered well enough to go to Washington earlier this year to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, one of the nation’s two highest civilian honors.

He remained vigorous and was a player in medicine well into his 90s, performing surgeries, traveling and publishing articles in scientific journals. His large hands were steady, his hearing sharp. His personal health regimen included taking the stairs at work and a single cup of coffee in the morning.


  1. #1 Paul
    July 14, 2008

    De Bakey was one of the great surgeons, but following on from your previous two posts it’s also fitting to remember that he was an influential advocate for animal research and chair of the Foundation for Biomedical Research.

  2. #2 Joe Erwin
    July 14, 2008


    An important point. The Foundation for Biomedical Research
    is an outstanding and much needed organization.


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