Denton Cooley

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Denton A. Cooley
Born (1920-08-22) August 22, 1920 (age 101)
Houston, TX
Education University of Texas at Austin
University of Texas Medical Branch
Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
Known for First clinical implantation of a total artificial heart
Medical career
Profession Surgeon
Institutions St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital
Texas Children's Hospital
The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

Denton Arthur Cooley (born August 22, 1920) is an American heart surgeon famous for performing the first implantation of a total artificial heart. Cooley is also founder and surgeon in-chief of The Texas Heart Institute, chief of Cardiovascular Surgery at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital, consultant in Cardiovascular Surgery at Texas Children's Hospital, and a clinical professor of Surgery at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

School and early career

Cooley graduated in 1941 from The University of Texas at Austin, where he was a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity and the Texas Cowboys, played on the basketball team, and majored in zoology. He became interested in surgery through several pre-med classes he attended in college[1] and began his medical education at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. He completed his medical degree and his surgical training at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, where he also completed his internship. At Johns Hopkins, he worked with Dr. Alfred Blalock and assisted in the first "Blue Baby" procedure to correct an infant's congenital heart defect.[2]

In 1946 Cooley was called to active duty with the Army Medical Corps. There, he served as chief of surgical services at the station hospital in Linz, Austria, and was discharged in 1948 with the rank of captain. He then returned to complete his residency at Johns Hopkins and remain as an instructor in surgery. In 1950 he went to London to work with Lord Russell Brock.

Major career events

In the 1950s Cooley returned to Houston to become associate professor of surgery at Baylor College of Medicine and to work at its affiliate institution, The Methodist Hospital.[3] During the 1950s, Cooley began working with Michael E. DeBakey. During that time he worked on developing a new method of removing aortic aneurysms, the bulging weak spots that may develop in the wall of the artery.

In 1960, Cooley moved his practice to St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital while continuing to teach at Baylor. In 1962 he founded The Texas Heart Institute with private funds and, following a dispute with DeBakey, resigned his position at Baylor in 1969.

He demonstrated his skill as a surgeon by successfully performing numerous bloodless open-heart surgeries on Jehovah's Witness patients beginning in the early 1960s.[4]

Cooley's career advanced rapidly through the 1960s. He and his colleagues worked on developing new artificial heart valves from 1962 to 1967; during that period the mortality rate for heart valve transplants fell from 70% to 8%.[5][6] In 1969, he became the first heart surgeon to implant an artificial heart designed by Domingo Liotta in a man, Haskell Karp, who lived for 65 hours.[7] The next year, in 1970, "he performed the first implantation of an artificial heart in a human when no heart replacement was immediately available."[8]

Personal life

Cooley's interests include basketball, which he played in high school and as a three-year letterman for the UT men's basketball team (1939–41), and golf, which he became interested in during his youth and has been playing for 68 years. (The practice and training facility of the UT men's and women's basketball teams—the Denton A. Cooley Pavilion, which opened in 2003—was named in his honor.[9][10]) Among his other outside interests, Cooley played upright bass in a swing band called The Heartbeats from 1965 through the early 1970s.[11]

On March 13, 1972, the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society was founded at the Texas Heart Institute by the Residents and Fellows of Cooley to honor him. Founding President Philip S. Chua had envisioned this exclusive Society to foster academic, professional and personal camaraderie among cardiac surgeons in the United States and around the world through scientific seminars and symposia. There are now more than 900 cardiac surgeons from more than 50 countries around the globe who are members of the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society.

In the HBO film Something the Lord Made, Cooley was portrayed by Timothy J. Scanlin, Jr.

Cooley reportedly answered in the affirmative when a lawyer during a trial asked him if he considered himself to be the best heart surgeon in the world. “Don’t you think that’s being rather immodest?” the lawyer replied. “Perhaps,” Cooley responded. “But remember I’m under oath.”

Cooley filed for bankruptcy in 1988 citing real estate debts during a market downturn.[12]

During the 2000 U.S. presidential election, Cooley was asked by then-candidate George W. Bush to review vice-presidential candidate Dick Cheney's medical records, particularly concerning the status of his chronic heart condition.

Cooley and the heart surgeon Michael DeBakey had a professional rivalry that lasted more than 40 years. They made amends in a public rapprochement on November 7, 2007, when DeBakey was 99 years old (Cooley was 87).[13]

Honors and awards

In addition, Cooley has authored or co-authored more than 1,400 scientific articles and 12 books.


  • "I've always felt that I did well as a student because I lacked confidence."[14]
  • "Of the many 'firsts' with which I have been involved at the Texas Heart Institute —including the first successful human heart transplant in the United States and the first total artificial heart transplant in the world—the achievement that may have the greatest impact on health care did not occur in the operating room or in the research laboratory. It happened on a piece of paper... when we created the first-ever packaged pricing plan for cardiovascular surgical procedures."[15][16]


  1. "Legends in Medicine: Denton A. Cooley, M.D." The University of Texas medical branch. Retrieved August 16, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Denton Cooley Biography". Academy of Achievement. Retrieved August 16, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Ott DA, Cooley DA. Cardiovascular surgery in Jehovah's Witnesses. Report of 542 operations without blood transfusion. JAMA. 1977;232:1256-1258
  7. "1969 Year in Review,"
  9. "Denton A. Cooley Pavilion". Retrieved May 4, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Longhorns' lap of luxury". Retrieved May 4, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Dr. Denton Cooley: King of Hearts," Innovator, Summer 2001, St. Luke's Episcopal Health System, Houston, TX.
  12. "Dr. Denton Cooley Petitions For Bankruptcy Protection". The New York Times. January 6, 1988. Retrieved May 1, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Ackerman, Todd (2007-11-07). "Top heart surgeons Cooley and DeBakey put their decades-old feud to rest". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-11-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "Denton Cooley Interview". Academy of Achievement. Retrieved 2013-10-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Myerson AR (1994-02-13). "It's a business. No, it's a religion". New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Edmonds C, Hallman GL (1995). "CardioVascular Care Providers. A pioneer in bundled services, shared risk, and single payment". Tex Heart Inst J. 22 (1): 72–6. PMC 325213. PMID 7787473.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links