For immediate release: Jan. 26, 2007

GALVESTON, Texas - Pioneering cardiovascular surgeon Dr. Denton A. Cooley was inducted as an inaugural Legend in Medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston on Saturday, Jan. 20. Cooley completed his first two years in medical school at UTMB from 1941 through 1942. 

UTMB, home of the oldest medical school in Texas and the state's first academic health center, created the Legends in Medicine program to honor individuals who received training at one of its four schools or through its network of hospitals and clinics and who have made a lasting difference on health care through their vision, spirit of innovation and skill. Currently, one in six physicians licensed to practice in Texas trained at UTMB.

Joining UTMB President Dr. John D. Stobo to recognize Cooley for his extraordinary career were Dr. Courtney M. Townsend, a 1969 UTMB graduate and the university's John Woods Harris Chair of Surgery, and Dr. Edward B. Singleton, a 1946 UTMB alumnus, chief emeritus of radiology at Texas Children's Hospital and a fellow Legend in Medicine.

Denton Cooley is a gifted physician who has truly transformed the practice of medicine," Stobo said. "He has blazed trails and set the standard in the field of cardiovascular surgery, and through his work and legacy he will continue to touch the lives of untold numbers of patients."

Cooley began his medical training at UTMB at the onset of World War II, observing operations performed by Dr. A.O. Singleton, a nationally renowned surgeon, chairman of surgery from 1926 to 1947 and father of UTMB Legend Edward Singleton.

He transferred to John Hopkins University Medical School in early 1943, where he earned his medical degree in 1944. As a Johns Hopkins intern, he studied with Dr. Alfred Blalock, who performed the first-ever "blue baby" surgery to correct an infant's congenital heart defect with a systemic pulmonary shunt. Cooley assisted in the operation, which is widely regarded as "the dawn of modern heart surgery."

"Any student of the history of medicine knows that on that day in November 1944 when heart surgery was born, Denton Cooley was in the room and participated in the birth," Townsend said. "He has been a major influence on the development of the entire field ever since."

Upon completing his surgical residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Cooley spent a year as senior surgical registrar at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London

Cooley returned to Texas to practice in the new Texas Medical Center in 1951. He founded the Texas Heart Institute with private funds in 1962. "In St. Paul's Cathedral in London, a plaque reads, ‘Reader, if you seek His monument, look around you.' There should be such a tribute to Dr. Cooley in the Texas Heart Institute," Townsend said.

In 1968, Cooley performed the first successful human heart transplant in the United States. The following year, he became the first heart surgeon to implant an artificial heart in a man. During his career, he initiated surgical techniques to bypass clogged coronary arteries and to repair aortic aneurysms. He helped develop and perfect ways to repair and replace diseased heart valves. He helped to develop the heart/lung machines that make many modern cardiac surgical procedures possible.

"Dr. Cooley is a legend many times over," Singleton said. "He did the first successful cardiac transplant in the United States. He established the Texas Heart Institute. And he and his associates have performed more than 100,000 open heart surgeries. Any one of those achievements would make him a legend." 

The Legends in Medicine induction is just one of numerous awards Cooley has received throughout his career. He received the Ashbel Smith Distinguished Alumnus Award from UTMB's School of Medicine Alumni Association in 1994. He also received the Medal of Freedom, the highest award given to a citizen of the United States. In addition, he has received the National Medal of Technology, the highest honor given in the United States for technological innovation, and the Renee Leriche Prize, the highest honor of the International Surgical Society. He is an Honorary Fellow of five Royal Colleges of Surgeons - most recently the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburg.

In summarizing the keys to such tremendous success, Cooley said, "One must live long, work hard and inspire his students."

Cooley attended the ceremony with Louise Goldsborough Thomas Cooley, his wife of 58 years, and many family members. He was the fifth individual to be named a Legend in Medicine by UTMB. The other inaugural recipients - Drs. Mavis P. Kelsey, Edward B. Singleton, Charles C. Sprague and William W. McGuire - were honored in 2006. Cooley was not able to attend the 2006 ceremony. 
The University of Texas Medical Branch
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Galveston, Texas 77555-0144