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Denton Arthur Cooley M.D.


1920 - 2016 Obituary Condolences Gallery
Denton Arthur Cooley M.D. Obituary
Denton Arthur Cooley, M.D.
1920-2016
Denton Arthur Cooley, M.D., native Houstonian, pioneering heart surgeon and founder of the Texas Heart Institute, died at home on Friday, the 18th of November 2016 at age 96. He was born in Houston, Texas, on the 22nd of August 1920, to Mary Fraley Cooley and Ralph Clarkson Cooley, a prominent Houston dentist. His wife of 67 years, Louise Goldsborough Thomas Cooley died one month ago.
Denton Cooley was a proud Houstonian who lived a full and well-rounded life. He maintained lifelong friendships and remained loyal to family, institutions and people, while having a single-minded focus on his work.
Cooley's ties to Houston precede his birth. In 1890, his grandfather, Daniel Denton Cooley, helped develop the Houston Heights, a major suburb of the city. Denton Cooley attended Houston Public Schools – Montrose Elementary, Sidney Lanier Junior High and graduated from San Jacinto High School. He was a proud contributor to the San Jacinto High school newspaper, the "Campus Cub," until the end of his life. He is a graduate of The University of Texas at Austin on a basketball scholarship. There, he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Kappa Sigma Fraternity and the Texas Cowboys. Cooley played on the UT basketball team that won the Southwest Conference Championship at Madison Square Garden in 1939. He remained an avid sportsman his entire life.
He attended The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and later transferred to The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore where he graduated in 1944 with highest honors. He did his surgical residency under renowned surgeon Dr. Alfred Blalock. His training was interrupted between 1946 and 1948 to serve WWII military duty in the 124th Station Hospital in Linz, Austria.
Dr. Cooley returned to Baltimore, where he met the beautiful and spirited head nurse of the Halsted surgical floor, Louise Thomas, whom he married in 1949. As an intern under Blalock, Cooley assisted in the first "blue-baby" operation, one of the most important milestones in heart surgery. Upon completing his residency, Denton and Louise moved to London where he joined Lord Russell Brock at the Brompton Hospital as senior surgical registrar.
Upon completing his training, Cooley returned to his hometown with his young wife and first daughter, Mary, where he joined the faculty of Baylor College of Medicine. In 1962, he founded the Texas Heart Institute (THI) at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital. THI is a world leader in research, education and patient care and the fight against heart disease. He served as the THI surgeon-in-chief for over 40 years. He continued operating until he was 87 years old, yet continued to make rounds and visit patients until age 96.
Denton Cooley's career spanned the history of modern heart surgery. His name has become synonymous with medical and technical excellence. Cooley performed the first successful human heart transplant in the U.S. in 1968 and the first human implantation of a total artificial heart in the world a year later. He contributed to techniques for repair and replacement of diseased heart valves and is widely known for his pioneering surgical treatment of cardiac anomalies in infants and children. Along with his team, Cooley performed over 120,000 open heart operations.
Dr. Cooley's astounding manual dexterity and lightning speed enabled him to perform what was once described as a "Woolworth volume of operations with Tiffany quality." He was a master at simplifying the most complex surgical procedures with a smoothness that made them look easy. In the operating room, he was exceptionally calm, even under the most difficult circumstances. His composed and kind demeanor set the tone for THI. He believed in teamwork and did not tolerate prima donnas.
Surgeons came from far and wide to observe his surgical prowess. Dr. Christiaan Barnard said, "It was the most beautiful surgery I had ever seen. No one could equal it. Dr. Cooley's skill was matched by his grace and kindness."
It was important to Denton Cooley that he pass his gifts on to emerging surgeons and, thus, established a program that trained hundreds of next-generation leaders in heart surgery. Through them and their trainees, his surgical legacy endures. More than 800 surgeons are members of the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society. He truly cared about his residents, colleagues and their families who carry memories of Dr. Cooley, not only at the operating table, but also pitching softball and driving the hayride at the annual Cool Acres hospital picnic.
During his career, Cooley authored more than 1,400 scientific papers and 12 books, including 100,000 Hearts: A Surgeon's Memoir. His honors and awards include the National Medal of Technology presented by President Bill Clinton; the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, presented by President Ronald Reagan; the Theodore Roosevelt award given by the National Collegiate Athletic Association to a varsity athlete who has achieved national recognition in his profession. Every surgical society bestowed on him its highest honors.
He was a Distinguished Alumnus of The University of Texas, The University of Texas Medical Branch and The Johns Hopkins University. He received honorary degrees from many American and foreign universities.
Dr. Cooley's innovations are not limited to the operating room or the laboratory. He founded a managed health care plan in the early 1980's – the first to "bundle" cardiovascular services into one fixed fee, saving millions of health care dollars.
Throughout his life, Cooley supported civic and humanitarian causes. Facilities that bear his name include the Student Center at Johns Hopkins; the Animal Hospital at the Houston Zoo; the University of Texas Basketball Pavilion and Student Center; University of Texas Houston Dental School University Life Center and most recently, the Denton A. Cooley, M. D. Hall at the Texas Medical Center Library which houses his papers and video library.
"He was a transformational leader and dear friend to many. The world has lost a medical genius and a great humanitarian," said THI President Dr. James T. Willerson. "Dr. Cooley dedicated his life to healing hearts. The number of lives he saved and improved over the years cannot be counted."
Family was of the utmost importance to Denton Cooley. He always said his family gave him the most joy and his office walls were covered with family photos. He proudly pointed out the newest "great-grand" to anyone who happened in. He loved spending time with his family at Cool Acres Ranch on the Brazos River, the water ski shack on the San Jacinto River or CooleyBunkport, the Galveston family beach house, each of which were close enough to the Medical Center in case of emergency.
Denton Cooley had a twinkle in his eye, a keen sense of humor and lived life to the fullest. His legacy lives on through his family, through THI and through the work of his trainees and their trainees. He was a surgeon like no other. He will be missed by all who knew him and by all whose lives he touched.
Denton Cooley was preceded in death by his wife of 67 years, Louise; daughter, Florence Talbot Cooley; his parents; and his brother, Ralph Clarkson Cooley, Jr. He is survived by daughters, Mary Craddock, Susan Cooley, Louise Davis, M.D. and Helen Fraser and their husbands, John W. Craddock, Jr., M.D., Richard T. Davis, and Charles D. Fraser, Jr., M.D. Also surviving are sixteen grandchildren and spouses - Sarah Walker and David Spitz; Blair Walker, M.D. and Marc Schmid; Denton Walker and Laena; William Walker and Emily; Jack Craddock; Caroline Craddock; Louise Paez and Gabriel ; John Plumb and Katherine; Robert Plumb and Sheridan; Mary Senkel and Nick; Susie Lowe and Jimmy; Peter Kaldis, M.D. and Leslie; Laura Nachtigall and David, Charlie Fraser, M.D. and Kathleen; Gracie Fraser; Will Fraser - and sixteen great-grandchildren, with more on the way. His is also survived by his cousin, Gus Greening; his niece, Mariana Cooley Hendricks; and nephews, Talbot and Daniel Denton Cooley.
The family is particularly grateful to those who dedicated themselves to making Dr. Cooley's life easier, including Dena Houchin, R.N., Joan Miller, James Berardo, Kathy Gerrie, Marc Mattson, Barbara and Jack Sebring. The family is especially thankful to Robert "RB" Williams, Neftali Bucio and Sarah B. Moore for their decades of willing service.
Words are inadequate to describe the tireless and unwavering care provided by Dr. Cooley's personal physician, Carl Dahlberg, M.D. The family is also grateful to Betsy Strauch, M.D. and Darelle Robbins, R.N. of the Houston Hospice. Deepest gratitude goes to caregivers including, Glenda Sparrow, Tim Guzman, Imogene Randall, Cynthia Bruns, Eddie Guice, Johnny Peralta, Rick Ramirez, Miguel Rodriguez, Manny Bamtefa, Mario Okoro and Arthur Joyner.
A memorial service will be conducted at eleven o'clock in the morning on Monday, the 28th of November, at Trinity Episcopal Church, in Midtown. Prior to the service, the family will have gathered for a private interment at Glenwood Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be sent to the Texas Heart Institute P.O. Box 20345 Mail Code 3-117 Houston, TX 77225-9969 or the Trinity Church Endowment, Inc. 1015 Holman Houston, TX 77004.
For more information about the life of Denton Cooley and funeral service transportation and parking, please refer to www.dentonacooley.org.
Published in Houston Chronicle from Nov. 20 to Nov. 21, 2016
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