Dr. DeBakey organized more than 60 doctors, nurses and supporting attendants into five teams. One team removed the heart, the lobe of one lung and both kidneys from Nelva Lou Hernandez, a 20-year-old woman who had died from a gunshot wound.
The other four teams managed the transplants for four waiting patients:
- Thomas A. Stevenson, 22, Houston, TX; one kidney
- William C. Carroll, 50, Scottsdale, AZ; the heart
- William C. Kaiser, 41, Odessa, TX; one kidney. He would die a week later of heart failure.
- William J. Whaley, 39, Ft. Lauderdale, FL; the lung lobe
Her corneas were placed into an eye bank.
The teams completed their surgeries at 6:30 am.
At that time in history, Dr. DeBakey said that there had been only five lung transplants in the world. It was the first heart transplant at Methodist Hospital and the 36th in the world.
This would not be the first or last time that Dr. DeBakey acted as a pioneer in medicine. He was a “pioneer in surgical procedures for treatment of defects and diseases of the cardiovascular system.”
At the age of 23, while still in medical school, DeBakey devised a continuous-flow roller pump for blood transfusions. The full significance of this invention was not realized for another two decades, when it became a major component of the heart-lung machine in the first successful open-heart operation.
While serving in World War II, he recommended doctors be moved to the front lines to care for wounded. This informed the development of mobile army surgical hospitals (MASH units) in the Korean War.
In 1952, Dr. DeBakey successfully repaired an aortic aneurysm a ballooning of an artery by cutting out the damaged segment in the abdomen and replacing it with a graft from a cadaver. In 1953, he successfully repaired a blocked carotid artery in the neck. The blockage threatened to cause a stroke by choking off blood flow to part of the brain.
He then pioneered Dacron arterial grafts. The aortic procedure and graft saved my father’s life in the late 1980s. It saved his in 2006.
Realizing that the demand for human heart transplants would outstrip the supply, Dr. DeBakey pursued the development of a total artificial heart as well as a partial one, known as a ventricular assist device, or VAD.
He died 11 July 2008 in Houston, aged 99.
Once dubbed “the Texas Tornado” by cardiologist Paul Dudley White, DeBakey left an astonishing legacy of surgical innovation, medical education and research, and health care policy, as well as thousands of patients whose lives were saved by his skills.
About organ donations
The National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws developed a Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, designed for state adoption, in 1968.
As of March 2022, the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act has been established in some form, in 47 states and the District of Columbia (original). Those states that have not adopted the Act, according to their chart, are Delaware, New York and Pennsylvania.
Arthur Hernandez, her husband, approved the donations.
If you have not already done so, sign up to be an organ donor today.