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Surgeon behind first successful heart transplant in United States dies

Pioneering surgeon Dr. Denton Cooley died Friday aged 96. He also performed the world's first surgery implanting an artificial heart.

Dr. Denton Cooley, who performed the first successful heart transplant in the United States and the world's first artificial heart implantation, died Friday.

Cooley died at the age of 96 in his Houston home, surrounded by family, said a spokeswoman for Texas Children's Hospital, where he worked earlier in his career. Cooley estimated he operated on about 100,000 people and developed techniques for cardiovascular surgery. He also received many accolades in his life, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest American civilian award.

Das menschliche Herz (picture-alliance/dpa)

Dr. Denton Cooley performed the first successful heart transplant in the United States in 1968

"Nothing can compare with the activity of the human heart," Cooley once said in an interview. "And besides that, it's always had a special connotation in our society, or in our life. It's been the seat of the soul and the seat of emotions."

Cooley performed the first successful heart transplant in the United States in May 1968 at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. He placed the heart of a 15-year-old girl into Everett Thomas, a 47-year-old accountant from Phoenix. Thomas was able to leave the hospital and lived for nearly seven months with the organ.

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Living with an artificial heart

"Denton's pioneering contributions to medicine are, of course, legend," said former US President George H.W. Bush, who lives in Houston, in a statement.

In April 1969, Cooley implanted the world's first artificial heart into a patient waiting for a new heart. The device kept 47-year-old Haskell Karp alive for 65 hours until Cooley could perform a transplant. Karp died the day after surgery. That procedure led to a feud between Cooley and his partner, Dr. Michael DeBakey, as DeBakey developed the artificial heart in his laboratory and Cooley used the device without DeBakey's approval. The feud between the two surgeons lasted until 2007 when Cooley presented DeBakey with a lifetime achievement award. DeBakey died in 2008.

kbd/kl (AP, Reuters)

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