Denton Cooley

National Medal of Technology and Innovation

Medicine

For his inspirational skill, leadership, and technical accomplishments during six decades practicing cardiovascular surgery, including performing the first successful human heart transplant in the United States and the world's first implantation of an artificial heart in man as a bridge to heart transplantation; and for founding the Texas Heart Institute, which has served more heart patients than any other institution in the world.

For his inspirational skill, leadership, and technical accomplishments during six decades practicing cardiovascular surgery, including performing the first successful human heart transplant in the United States and the world's first implantation of an artificial heart in man as a bridge to heart transplantation; and for founding the Texas Heart Institute, which has served more heart patients than any other institution in the world.

VIEW STATISTICS +

Birth
August 22, 1920
Age Awarded
78
Country of Birth
USA
Key Contributions
First Artificial Heart Implantation
Awarded by
Bill Clinton
Education
Johns Hopkins University
University of Texas
University of Texas Medical Branch
Areas of Impact
Health & Medicine
Affiliations
Texas Heart Institute, Texas Medical Center
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There may not have been a more aptly named musical act in Texas. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Denton Cooley played upright bass in a swing band called the Heartbeats. It was around the same time that Cooley became the first surgeon in the world to perform a total artificial heart transplant.

In 1969, Cooley, then a doctor at Baylor College of Medicine, had a dying patient, but no donor heart available for transplant. Not certain when such a heart would become available, Cooley instead implanted a half-pound device developed by a colleague. The machine, known as an artificial heart, was an air-driven, double-ventricle pump connected to an external power unit about the size of a washing machine. The artificial heart kept the patient alive for three days, until a donor heart became available. The first human-to-human heart transplant had only been performed two years earlier.

Once asked by a lawyer during a trial whether he considered himself to be the best heart surgeon in the world, Cooley reportedly replied in the affirmative. “Don’t you think that’s being rather immodest,” the lawyer asked.

“Perhaps,” Cooley replied. “But remember, I’m under oath.”

By Jake New

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