WASHINGTON – Congress voted Tuesday to award its highest civilian honor to Dr. Michael E. DeBakey, the heart surgeon who pioneered coronary bypass surgery and other innovations that have changed modern medicine.
DeBakey, known as the father of cardiovascular surgery in the United States, performed his first successful coronary bypass in 1964. Two years later, he successfully used a partial artificial heart to solve the problems of patients who could not be weaned from a heart-lung machine following open-heart surgery.
DeBakey, now 99, volunteered for military service during World War II and was instrumental in developing mobile army surgical hospitals, or MASH units. He also played a role in developing the current VA medical system.
DeBakey was on the staff of the Baylor University College of Medicine from 1948 to 1993, and was elected the first president of the college in 1969.
He has performed some 60,000 heart surgeries, and was part of the team that operated on the late Russian leader Boris Yeltsin in 1996.
President Lyndon Johnson awarded DeBakey the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969 and President Ronald Reagan conferred on him the National Medal of Science in 1985.
The Congressional Gold Medal has been awarded to some 300 individuals since the first was given to George Washington in 1776. Among recent recipients have been Martin Luther King, the Tuskegee airmen, Jackie Robinson, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Pope John Paul II.
The House on Tuesday passed the bill on a voice vote, sending it to the president for his signature.