The head of the University of Texas medical center in Houston has been named to succeed Denton Cooley, M.D., as head of the Texas Heart Institute.
Officials have given no timetable for James Willerson, M.D., to replace Cooley, 84, who achieved his greatest fame in 1969 by implanting the first artificial heart in a human patient.
Cooley has headed the institute at Houston's St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital since he founded it in 1962. The institute is a perennial top-10 heart center in the nation.
Willerson, 64, told the Houston Chronicle that Cooley asked him to succeed him at the institute about six weeks ago. The transition could occur in as little as a year, Willerson said. He added that he will begin sharing Cooley's presidential duties immediately.
Cooley could not be reached for comment. However, in a memo to institute employees Wednesday, Cooley said: "I have no immediate plans to step down, yet I felt it was important for our organization to have a plan of succession. I'm gratified that Dr. Willerson was selected."
Willerson was born in Lampasas, Texas, the son of two physicians. After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin, he earned his medical degree in 1965 at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
After completing his residency and fellowship training at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., he returned to Texas in 1972 and joined the faculty at what was then the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School at Dallas.
In 1989, he became chairman of internal medicine at what was then the University of Texas Medical School in Houston. He held that post until his appointment as president in March 2001.
The Chronicle reported that Willerson has known Cooley since he was 14, when Cooley performed surgery on his father.