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A Surgical Waiting Room In The New Jennie Sealy Hospital Will Be Named For Dr. Denton A. Cooley,  UTMB Alumnus    and World Famous Heart Surgeon

At a time when NASA astronauts were racing to be the first to land on the moon, Dr. Denton A. Cooley was in the midst of his own race.

A South African surgeon was the first to successfully transplant a human heart, and a Stanford surgeon’s patient died 14 days after his heart transplant. In 1968, Dr. Cooley indeed performed what was widely considered the first successful heart transplant in the nation. A year later he was the first surgeon anywhere to implant an artificial heart.

While those pioneering achievements are well known, comparatively less is known of the famed heart surgeon’s philanthropy. It is a role he describes as “one of the real satisfactions in life.”

His latest contribution to UTMB, supporting the new Jennie Sealy Hospital, demonstrates his regard for the two years he spent at the university as a student. Those years, he said, were “a wonderful foundation for my future career in medicine.”

Dr. Cooley’s name will adorn a fourth-floor surgical waiting room in the new hospital. The Jennie Sealy Hospital, he said, will be an impressive addition to the campus when it opens in three years. 

“It has been my privilege to participate in the fundraising efforts for the new Jennie Sealy Hospital,” Dr. Cooley said. “It’s going to be a gorgeous hospital with all the state-of-the-art facilities available. It will offer the students and staff the opportunity to have clinical experiences which will prepare them for a career in medicine.” 

Dr. David L. Callender, UTMB’s president, praised Dr. Cooley’s generosity and his participation as an honorary chair emeriti for the $450 million Working Wonders Campaign, the largest effort to raise private support in the university’s history. 

 “Dr. Cooley remains one of the most respected, accomplished cardiac surgeons of our time and certainly one of our most distinguished former students,” Dr. Callender said. “UTMB is fortunate to be associated with such a towering figure who, through his contribution to the Jennie Sealy Hospital, continues to build on his proud legacy at UTMB.” 

This is not Dr. Cooley’s first gift to UTMB, Dr. Callender pointed out. In 2002, through the Denton A. Cooley Foundation, he established the Cooley Distinguished Professorship in Surgery, currently held by Dr. Vincent R. Conti, chief of UTMB’s Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery. 

The Denton A. Cooley, MD Surgical Waiting Room will be at the entry to the new hospital’s fourth-floor surgical complex that will hold 20 operating suites. It will be as sophisticated as any other medical center in the country and will summon the best of what surgery has to offer, including surgical techniques Dr. Cooley pioneered. 

Upon graduation with highest honors from the University of Texas at Austin, he applied for medical school. He was accepted at Baylor College of Medicine in Dallas and Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, but UTMB was his first choice. While at UTMB, he became fascinated with surgery and the teamwork involved. He transferred after his sophomore year to Johns Hopkins University, where he completed his medical education in 1944. 

During his career, Dr. Cooley also developed techniques to correct congenital heart anomalies in infants and children, to bypass clogged coronary arteries and to repair aortic aneurysms. He and his team performed more than 100,000 open-heart surgeries.  

Dr. Cooley has received numerous honors and awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, the International Surgical Society’s René Leriche Prize and the National Medal of Technology. He also received UTMB’s Ashbel Smith Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1994.

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