DeBakey remembered at memorial service

July 16, 2008 4:32:44 PM PDT
In a tribute mixed with praise and personal anecdotes, pioneering heart surgeon Michael DeBakey was remembered at a memorial service Wednesday as not only a brilliant physician and medical innovator but also as a friend and humanitarian. During the two-hour service at a Catholic church in Houston, friends and colleagues detailed DeBakey's rise to becoming the father of modern heart surgery, calling him one of the greatest doctors ever.

But intermingled with those accolades were heartfelt stories that detailed DeBakey's personal life, everything from his love of gumbo to his learning to play the clarinet in three months to his baby-sitting abilities.

DeBakey died Friday at the age of 99. His body lay in repose in Houston City Hall on Tuesday at the request of his family. Officials said it is the first time a Houstonian was given that honor.

DeBakey, who served in the U.S. Army during World War II, is scheduled to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on Friday.

Near his flag-draped coffin inside the church sat his wife, Katrin, daughter Olga, sons Michael and Denis, his sisters Lois and Selma, as well as grandchildren and other relatives.

Nearly 1,800 people filled the church to listen to 10 speakers give their personal tributes to DeBakey.

The crowd was filled with many prominent Houstonians, including socialites Lynn Wyatt and Joanne Herring, as well as local and state leaders, and fellow heart surgeon and once longtime rival Denton Cooley.

The falling out between the two men in the 1960s over whether Cooley had used an artificial heart that DeBakey had designed during the first ever such operation led to one of medicine's best-known rivalries. The heart surgeons made amends last year.

Also in attendance were doctors and other medical personnel, many wearing their surgical scrubs or white coats, from the Texas Medical Center, where DeBakey studied and practiced medicine for 60 years.

"Dr. DeBakey is irreplaceable. There will never be another one like him," said Dr. Bobby Alford, chancellor of the Baylor College of Medicine.

DeBakey, who was chancellor emeritus at Baylor College of Medicine, was also its first president.

Alford said DeBakey's titles were many: surgeon, teacher, educator, researcher, statesman.

His patients included such famous individuals as the Duke of Windsor, the Shah of Iran, King Hussein of Jordan, and presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon.

"Everyone from kings to the common man came to Methodist (DeBakey's home hospital for 60 years) to be treated by Dr. DeBakey," said Dr. Marc Boom, Methodist's executive vice president. "He was a man who unquestionably changed the world."

DeBakey's many accomplishments over his more than 70-year career include: inventing a major component of the heart-lung machine, which ushered in the era of open-heart surgery; developing artificial hearts and heart pumps to assist patients waiting for transplants; and helping create more than 70 surgical instruments.

During her speech, Herring told the audience she wanted to tell them about the lighter side of her friend's life.

She said that while studying to get both an undergraduate and medical degree at Tulane University, DeBakey learned to play the clarinet in three months, playing well enough to earn a spot on the symphony orchestra. DeBakey had originally wanted to play the saxophone, which he already knew, but was told there was no saxophone in the symphony.

"For four years he played clarinet, while also chasing girls," said Herring, whose life was featured in last year's film, "Charlie Wilson's War."

In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent in memory of Dr. Michael E. DeBakey to the Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center Research Fund as follows:

The Methodist Hospital Foundation**
DeBakey Memorials
P.O. Box 4384
Houston , TX 77210-4384

**Noting DeBakey memorial in memo line of their check.

Direct web site information:

www.methodisthealth.com/DeBakeyMemorial

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