Denton Arthur Cooley, son of a Houston dentist, was born in 1920. He attended the Houston Public Schools and graduated from San Jacinto High School. He then attended the University of Texas where he was a member of Kappa Sigma Fraternity. He was a member of the Southwest Conference Champion Basketball teams of that era. He graduated with highest honors and Phi Beta Kappa. He attended the University of Texas Medical School at Galveston for two years and transferred to Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore where he graduated in 1944 with highest honors and Alpha Omega Alpha. He completed his surgical residency under Dr. Alfred Blalock serving for six years with a leave of absence between 1946 and 1948 to serve military duty in the 124th Station Hospital, Linz, Austria. Upon completing his residency, he joined Mr. Russell Brock at Brompton Hospital in London, England where he was Senior Surgical Registrar. Upon completing his training, he entered the full-time medical faculty of Baylor College of Medicine where he served from 1951 to 1969, when he resigned to become Chief Surgeon at the Texas Heart Institute. A world-renowned surgeon, Denton A. Cooley pioneered many techniques used in cardiovascular surgery. He performed the first successful human heart transplant in the United States in 1968. In 1969, he became the first heart surgeon to implant an artificial heart in man. Dr. Cooley was a member or honorary member of over 50 professional societies around the world and a dozen fraternities and clubs.
Among his more than 120 honors and awards are the Grand Hamdan International Award for Medical Science presented in Dubai, November, 2000; the National Medal of Technology presented by President Clinton in 1999; the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, presented by President Reagan in 1984; the Theodore Roosevelt award given by the National Collegiate Athletic Association to a varsity athlete who has achieved national recognition in his profession; and the Rene Leriche Prize, the highest honor of the International Surgical Society for cardiovascular contributions. Dr. Cooley received the American Surgical Association Medallion of Scientific Achievement for “Distinguished Service to Surgery” in April, 2010. He was named Distinguished Alumnus for both The University of Texas and Johns Hopkins University where he served on the Board of Trustees. He has received honorary degrees from five American universities and three foreign. He was named Honorary Fellow of five Royal Colleges of Surgery, Glasgow, Scotland, Australasia, Ireland, England and Edinburgh. Dr. Cooley received decorations from 12 foreign countries including Argentina, Ecuador, Greece, Italy, Jordan, Panama, Peru, the Philippines, Spain, The Netherlands and Venezuela. Dr. Cooley had a close association with the American Association for Thoracic Surgery, having received the AATS Scientific Achievement Award in 2000 and received the AATS Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016.He contributed to the techniques for repair and replacement of diseased heart valves and was widely known for his pioneering surgical treatment of cardiac anomalies of infants and children. Dr. Cooley and his team performed nearly 120,000 open heart operations at his hospital - more than any other group in the world.
Dr. Cooley believed his major accomplishment was the creation of the Texas Heart Institute and developing a school of surgery. More than 800 surgeons are members of the Cooley Surgical Society.
The Denton A. Cooley Building completed in 2002 for the Texas Heart Institute was provided largely by donations from patients, friends, and colleagues. It has facilities for education, research, and 12 operating rooms for cardiovascular surgery.
Dr. Cooley passed away at home on November 18, 2016 at the age of 96. He was preceded in death by his wife of 67 years, Louise Thomas Cooley. He is survived by five daughters, 16 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren, with more on the way. The legacy of Denton A. Cooley is alive in the patients around the world whose hearts are still beating today because of Cooley and his team.