Dr. Denton Cooley, Whose Pioneering Heart Surgery Set Off a 40-Year Medical Feud, Dies at 96 – New York Times
But those advances were overshadowed on April 4, 1969, when Dr. Cooley, working independently of Dr. DeBakey, performed his groundbreaking implantation without Dr. DeBakey’s authorization. At the time, Dr. DeBakey and a medical team were developing the artificial heart — it was still an experimental device — at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
Dr. DeBakey felt betrayed. Suddenly his protégé was his archrival. So began a feud that would last 40 years, reveal much about the personalities and ambitions of the two renowned surgeons and end only a year before Dr. DeBakey’s death in 2008.
Dr. Cooley long defended his action as a doctor’s obligation to do whatever is necessary to save a patient’s life. “If you are a ship out in the ocean and someone throws you a life preserver, you don’t look at it to see if it has been approved by the federal government,” he said in an interview for this obituary.
The implantation was performed at the Texas Heart Institute; the patient was Haskell Karp, 47, from Skokie, Ill. About 16 months earlier, Dr. Christiaan N. Barnard had performed the world’s first human heart transplant in South Africa, a milestone that led many other surgeons to try the operation. One was Dr. Cooley, a professor of surgery at Baylor and the chief of cardiovascular surgery at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital in Houston, who in 1968 performed what he claimed was the first successful heart transplant in the United States.
The rush to transplantation led researchers like Dr. DeBakey to renew their attempts to develop an artificial heart to keep patients alive until a donor heart could be found. He was believed to be the first to perform surgery using a partial artificial heart, known as a ventricular assist device.