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July 12, 2005

Michael DeBakey Celebrates 70 Years of Sigma Xi Membership

Michael DeBakey RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC — At age 23, while still in medical school at Tulane University in New Orleans, Michael E. DeBakey invented the roller pump, one of the essential components of the heart-lung machine that later made open-heart surgery possible.

Over the years, he has invented scores of medical instruments and devices, as well as groundbreaking surgical techniques and procedures. A pioneer in the development of an artificial heart, he was the first to use a partial artificial heart successfully.

During World War II, DeBakey developed Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals (MASH units) and urged the creation of specialized medical centers to treat wounded military personnel returning from war, from which the Veterans Affairs Medical Center system evolved.

Almost every U.S. president since Harry Truman has sought his advice, as have many heads of state around the world. And he led the movement to establish the National Library of Medicine and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

For these and other accomplishments, DeBakey is known as the father of modern cardiovascular surgery and the world's foremost medical statesman.

This year he celebrates 70 years of active membership in Sigma Xi, having joined the Society in 1935 at the invitation of his colleague, mentor and friend, Alton Ochsner, a Tulane professor who was one of the founders of the Tulane Chapter of Sigma Xi.

DeBakey collaborated with Ochsner on many projects. In 1939, they published a landmark article suggesting a link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer.

"The early recognition of Sigma Xi membership was important to my career," DeBakey says, "as was my relationship with Dr. Ochsner."

The world renowned heart surgeon chose to honor his mentor with a gift to the Sigma Xi Center campaign.

Although he stopped performing surgery at age 90, after more than 60,000 operations and training thousands of surgeons, many of whom now head their own departments, DeBakey still keeps a busy schedule. Now 96, he is chancellor emeritus of the Baylor College of Medicine and director of The DeBakey Heart Center of Baylor and Methodist Hospital in Houston.

Sigma Xi Executive Director Patrick D. Sculley and Committee on Development Chair Raymond Lutz recently visited DeBakey in Houston.

"I told him how proud Sigma Xi is that he has been such a loyal and devoted member," Sculley says. "Dr. DeBakey has exemplified the highest principles of our Society for 70 years, and we wanted to recognize and celebrate this milestone."

DeBakey's many honors include Sigma Xi's 1995 William Procter Prize for Scientific Achievement and the 1997 Common Wealth Award for Science and Invention, based on Sigma Xi's nomination. He is also the recipient of the Albert Lasker Award, the National Medal of Freedom with Distinction and the National Medal of Science.


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