April 4, 1969: Texas Surgeon Implants First Artificial Heart!

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A Brief History

On April 4, 1969, Dr. Denton Cooley performed surgery to implant the first artificial (temporary) heart in history!

Digging Deeper

Dr. Cooley was a renowned heart surgeon and founder of the Texas Heart Institute.

Having worked with Dr. Michael DeBakey (another renowned heart surgeon that invented the pump that makes heart surgery possible), Cooley was part of the team that performed the first heart transplant in the United States as well as his artificial heart work.  He also pioneered techniques using artificial heart valves which reduced mortality in heart valve replacement surgery from 70% to 8%!

Unfortunately, Cooley had a falling out with DeBakey and the two giants of heart surgery did not reconcile until Cooley was 87 and DeBakey was 99 (2007)!

Never one to practice false modesty, Cooley once was asked by an attorney in court if Cooley was the best heart surgeon in the world, which of course Cooley responded to with a yes, saying, “Remember, I’m under oath!”  Cooley also once said his greatest contribution to heart surgery was his invention of packaged pricing!

Cooley was so good at heart surgery he was able to perform numerous surgeries on Jehovah’s Witness members that refused to allow transfusions!  Cooley has also authored 12 books and over a thousand medical articles and has been given many awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  Cooley was called upon by future President George W. Bush to review Dick Cheney’s heart health for suitability as vice president!  Cooley suffered bankruptcy in 1988 despite his stature as perhaps the premier heart surgeon in the country if not the world!

Cooley is depicted in the HBO movie Something The Lord Made about heart surgery pioneers (especially Vivien Thomas, an African-American).  Despite extending the lives of many patients with heart transplants, Cooley was actually criticized by many people who felt “brain dead” was not “real dead” and that removing a still beating heart from a person was immoral whether he was brain dead or not.  Question for students (and subscribers): Do you think removing a beating heart is moral or immoral?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Cooley, Denton A.  100,000 Hearts: A Surgeon’s Memoir.  Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin, 2012.

Cooley, Denton A.  Reflections and Observations: Essays of Denton A. Cooley : Collected by Marianne Kneipp.  Eakin Pr, 1984.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.