Tuesday, October 09, 2007


If you or someone you love has had open heart surgery, you probably have this guy to thank. Dr. Michael DeBakey was recently awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian honor bestowed in the United States. It is equivalent to the Presidential Medal of Freedom, though it is bestowed by Congress rather than by the President himself. (Or herself.) Dr. Debakey was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969. It should also be noted that there have been far fewer Gold Medal recipients than Medal of Freedom recipients. Other recipients include the Rev. Dr. and Mrs. Martin Luther King, Jr., Jackie Robinson, Pope John Paul II and Charles Schultz. By the way, Dr. Debakey is 99 years old and still practicing medicine. He is best known for his pioneering work in cardiovascular surgury. But he also invented the concept of the MASH unit (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital).

Why do I find this interesting?

Dr. DeBakey operated on my mother's heart when she was just 5 years old in 1947. Her surgery was notable because her sister Pat had the same ailment and operation. They were even published in the local paper in Minneapolis.Mom says they discovered the problem with her heart at her kindergarten physical. Apparently there was a valve that didn't close properly which meant the blood sloshing around where it didn't belong. When they discovered Mom's problem, they also tested her two sisters and my Aunt Pat had the same trouble. Mom says she was very concerned that Joanna and I might have problems when we were born.
Aunt Pat was operated on first because she was older and stronger. (And she's still strong! She just came through a complete hip replacement with flying colors!)

In addition to my mom and Aunt Pat, Dr. Debakey also operated on Boris Yeltsin.

Mom remembers being in the hospital for three weeks and that she got painful penicillin shots every four hours. She would cry and scream and was quite a problem for the nurses. So sad, really. She says Grandma and Grandpa had to stop coming to visit because she would become completely hysterical when they would leave. Can you imagine?
Grandma wrote in Mom's baby book:

December 1, 1947
Kathy had her patent ductus operation Nov. 7. It was successful. Dr. Shapiro (our family practice doctor and diagnostician) gave her an 8 out of 10 chance of being cured and it was curable the same as Patty. Her X-rays are clear now and no trace of murmur left. Dr. Wagenstein was chief surgeon during operation. Kathy was in oxygen tent for 3 days and nights because her blood pressure was acting up. She was in surgery 4 hours and used no blood. The opening was extra large and easy to locate. She was in hospital for 2 weeks and walked one week after surgery. Feels fine and full of pep now and should pick up weight. She weighed 35 lbs at 5 years at time of operation. Thank God we are thru these operations and have our little girls well and safe with us.
She doesn't note Debakey here, but everyone in the family seems to know that he was involved.
Mom has a big scar on her chest. When I was a kid I always thought it looked like a fish.
Mom is still "fine and full of pep" all these years later. Thanks to Dr. Debakey.


Anonymous said...

Yes - I'm alive and well at 65! Do you see the "Sparkle Plenty" doll I'm holding? She was my comfort and security through scary times. Deborah, thanks for writing a wonderful story and a piece of history from our family.
Love, mom

Terry Grant said...

What a great story and an interesting family "brush with greatness." How lucky for all of you that your Mom was in his care. Just think of all the stories like yours that Dr. deBakey is responsible for--all the families and children and grandchildren that are here today thanks to his intelligence and expertise. He looks like a very kind man in the picture, doesn't he?

Anonymous said...

This is a great story and being of your Mom's vintage (slightly older), I had no idea that such surgery was done in those dark ages! :}