Dr. Denton Cooley, the world-renowned cardiovascular surgeon and founder of the Texas Heart Institute, died Friday at age 96.
Cooley performed the first successful heart transplant in the U.S. in 1968, and through his 60-year career, pioneered surgical treatments used to treat cardiac anomalies in infants and children.
Cooley founded the Texas Heart Institute in 1962. The Houston-based not-for-profit research facility has been recognized for innovations in cardiology, stem cell and gene therapy.
Cooley began his career in 1944 after he graduated from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. He completed his residency at Hopkins but took a leave of absence from 1946 to 1948 to serve in Linz, Austria, as a captain and chief of surgical service in the Army Medical Corps.
For 18 years, he was a full-time medical faculty member at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. During that time, a famous feud between Cooley and his mentor Dr. Michael DeBakey erupted when Cooley used an artificial heart device from DeBakey's lab without his knowledge for the first artificial heart transplant Cooley performed in 1969. At the time, he was accused of an unethical act in order to perform a "medical first." Cooley resigned shortly after.
Cooley also served as Texas Children's Hospital's first chief of cardiovascular surgery and was a major force behind the creation of the Texas Children's Heart Center, which is consistently recognized for its pediatric cardiology services. He and his team performed more than 120,000 open heart surgeries.
Cooley has received more than 120 honors and awards including the National Medal of Technology in 1999 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1984.
He joined Modern Healthcare's Hall of Fame in 2013. In an interview at the time he said, “We're going through a period of transition now. We don't understand clearly what's going to happen with the so-called Obamacare. But I hope the medical profession—especially the surgical profession—will be able to maintain its dignity and the high respect it deserves.”
His survivors include four daughters, Mary Cooley Craddock, Dr. Susan Cooley, Dr. Louise Cooley Davis and Helen Cooley Fraser; 16 grandchildren, and 17 great-grandchildren. Cooley's wife of 67 years, Louise Thomas Cooley, died before him, as did a daughter, Florence Talbot Cooley.