Selected Contributions to Medical Science
Explore a timeline of Dr. Michael E. DeBakey's contributions to medicine through his lifetime.
DeBakey performed the first successful removal of a blockage, or lesion, of the carotid artery, the main artery of the neck that supplies blood to the brain. During this procedure, called an endarterectomy, the surgeon slits the artery open, peels away the lesion from the artery wall and then closes the incision by sewing the remaining undamaged walls. This accomplishment showed that a major cause of strokes could be treated effectively.
He followed with the first successful resection and graft replacement of an aneurysm in the downward section of the aortic arch, which curves like a cane handle over the top of the heart. He also did the first successful resection of an aneurysm in the muscle layer of the aorta, and the first successful resection and graft replacement of an aneurysm of the upper part of the aorta.
DeBakey was the first to do a successful resection of an aneurysm of the portion of the aorta between the chest and abdomen. This procedure was performed with a graft replacement of the arteries leading from the aorta to the liver, spleen, stomach, gastrointestinal tract and kidneys.
To counteract narrowing of an artery caused by an endarterectomy, DeBakey developed the first patch-graft angioplasty. This procedure involved patching the slit in the artery from an endarterectomy with a Dacron or vein graft. The patch widened the artery so that when it is closed, the channel of the artery returned to normal size.
DeBakey developed the concept behind the coronary bypass by noting that in many forms of arterial disease, the portions above and below a diseased or blocked segment of artery were normal. Therefore, the damaged portion could be bypassed to restore blood flow and prevent a fatal heart attack. A year later, he performed the first successful coronary bypass using the large vein in the leg to bypass the blocked or damaged area between the aorta and coronary arteries.
DeBakey pioneered the field of telemedicine with the first demonstration of open-heart surgery to be transmitted overseas by satellite. A medical staff at a hospital and university in Geneva were able to view an aortic-valve replacement being performed at The Methodist Hospital in Houston.
He was the first to successfully use the left ventricular bypass pump. This device took oxygenated blood from the left atrium, one of the chambers of the heart that receives blood from the lungs and body, and pumped it back into circulation by a connection to the aorta or a major artery.
DeBakey performed 12 heart transplants. The program was discontinued in the early 1970s because of problems with organ rejection.
DeBakey continued testing artificial-heart models to sustain the lives of calves, a research program he began in the 1960s. He also studied ways to eliminate the risk of stroke and the cumbersome nature of current artificial heart devices.
DeBakey received a federal grant to establish the first National Heart and Blood Vessel Research and Demonstration Center. He had previously recommended development of highly specialized centers in different parts of the nation to treat wounded veterans, and then applied the center concept to civilian medicine by establishing the Cardiovascular Research and Training Center at The Methodist Hospital in Houston. That center's successful multidisciplinary approach to cardiovascular research and therapy was continued at the federally-funded National Heart and Blood Vessel Research and Demonstration Center at BCM.
DeBakey and colleagues reported that evidence of cytomegalovirus (CMV), a common virus infecting a high percentage of people without causing symptoms, was present in the walls of 11 patients with atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. CMV, which causes cells to multiply, often becomes dormant in the body for years after infection. The study suggested that early in life, CMV might initiate the lesions that later cause atherosclerosis.
Encouraged by the development of cyclosporine to prevent organ rejection, DeBakey resumed heart transplantation.
A second report on CMV by DeBakey and colleagues found that heart-disease patients have higher-than-normal levels of antibodies to CMV. The report supported their earlier finding that CMV might play a major role in the development of atherosclerosis.
DeBakey also reported on two other studies in 1987. One study found that cholesterol levels in 15,000 patients were unrelated to how quickly blockage of major arteries progressed. In another 1,400 patients, all of whom had undergone coronary-artery bypass surgery, he found that patients with normal or below-normal cholesterol levels were just as prone to have their replacement arteries become clogged again. While a high-fat diet, smoking and high blood pressure place a person at a higher risk of developing heart disease, these studies imply that they do not in themselves cause atherosclerosis.
DeBakey continued to participate in telemedicine conferences and analyze statistics on the causes of atherosclerosis.
He served as a consultant to the medical team that performed quintuple-coronary- bypass surgery on Russian President Boris Yeltsin. DeBakey was consulted again in 1998 at Yeltsin's request by a Russian delegation seeking advice on establishing a high-tech surgical center in Russia.
Working with NASA engineers, DeBakey and colleagues refined the left ventricular heart-assist pump, known as the VAD. European clinical trials of the DeBakey Ventricular Assist Device in humans began.