TMA Exhibits Pioneer Heart Surgeons’ Unique Artifacts

Jan. 16, 2012  

Imagine being a patient undergoing heart surgery, and its success might depend on a homemade device called the “Cooley Coffeepot.” Patients of renowned heart surgeon Denton A. Cooley, MD, in the 1950s were helped by the contraption, which now is on display at the Texas Medical Association (TMA).

For the first time, artifacts and images from the collections of Dr. Cooley and the late Michael E. DeBakey, MD, are on display in a new TMA exhibit, “Saving Hearts — Saving Lives.” The two Texas physicians are widely regarded as towering pioneers in the field of cardiovascular medicine in the last half of the 20th century. 

Dr. Cooley personally selected items from his collection for TMA to display, including the Cooley Coffeepot. He designed and built the device in 1955 in Houston with materials from a local kitchen supply store. It oxygenated blood in a patient’s body while he surgically repaired the heart. It was one of the earliest heart-lung machines in the nation and the first in Texas.

TMA’s display also features the first artificial grafts designed for heart repair, based on Dr. DeBakey’s innovation — he made them in 1952 on his wife’s sewing machine using Dacron from a local fabric store. Early heart pacemakers, surgical tools designed by Drs. DeBakey and Cooley for their own use, and artificial devices implanted by both giants of medicine are among other notable artifacts displayed.

The “Saving Hearts — Saving Lives” exhibit also explains why Houston and the Texas Medical Center were uniquely positioned to foster medical innovation and leadership in the 20th century. 

Medical knowledge in earlier times was not as reliable as today, the exhibit shows, as 100 years ago physicians were taught that touching a diseased heart would cause it to stop beating. (This is not the case.)

TMA is the largest state medical society in the nation, representing more than 47,000 physician and medical student members. It is located in Austin and has 120 component county medical societies around the state. TMA’s key objective since 1853 is to improve the health of all Texans.

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Editor’s note: Saving Hearts — Saving Lives” is in the History of Medicine Gallery on the ground floor of the TMA building at 401 W. 15th St. in Austin through September 2013. It is free and open to the public 9 am-5 pm Monday through Friday. For more information or to arrange a tour, call (512) 370-1552 or (800) 880-1300, ext. 1552, or email betsy.tyson[at]texmed[dot]org.

Contact: Pam Udall
phone: (512) 370-1382
cell: (512) 413-6807
Pam Udall  
                                                Contact: Brent Annear
phone: (512) 370-1381
cell: (512) 656-7320
Brent Annear  

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February 14, 2020