Past Event

Surgical Transgressions? Michael DeBakey, Denton Cooley, and the Controversial Artificial Heart Case of 1969

November 10, 2016
5:30 PM - 7:30 PM
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Conference Room 103-A, Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library, Hammer Health Sciences Building, 701 West 168th St., New York

Speaker: Shelley McKellar, Ph.D., Hannah Chair in the History of Medicine, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, Western University, London, Ontario

During the 1960s, American cardiac surgeons Michael DeBakey and Denton Cooley each performed more successful heart operations than almost any other surgeon in the world.  Thousands of heart patients made their pilgrimage to Houston, Texas in hopes of benefitting from the surgical skill of DeBakey or Cooley.

In 1969, Cooley implanted an experimental total artificial heart in heart failure patient Haskell Karp as a bridge to transplantation.  As a clinical first, this artificial heart operation stirred tremendous controversy within the medical community and incited a well-publicized feud between DeBakey and Cooley over an accusation of device theft and debatable authorization.  The allegation raised significant issues of innovation credit and institutional reputations.  Who can claim ownership and does this confer license to decide when ‘the time is right’ to perform an experimental procedure on a human?  Was it not premature of Cooley to implant this device in a patient?  Focusing on this case, Shelley McKellar, Professor of the History of Medicine at Western University in London, Ontario, highlights medical disputes, treatment disappointments, the role of the media, and its reverberating effects on the development of artificial hearts thereafter.

Shelley McKellar studies the history of medicine and disease, with a special interest in the history of medical technology, instruments and devices, the history of surgery, and medical biography. Professor McKellar teaches the history of medicine, the medical profession, and related historical aspects of 'doctoring' to medical students in the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry as well as teaches the history of disease and society, including public health initiatives, epidemic outbreaks and social response to undergraduate and graduate history students in the Faculty of Social Science. She advises a number of graduate students, and welcomes inquiries from MA and PhD students interested in the history of medicine and disease.