Pioneering surgeon Dr. Denton Cooley dies at age 96

World-renowned heart surgeon Dr. Denton A. Cooley has died at the age of 96. He founded the Texas Heart Institute in 1962 where he served as surgeon-in-chief for more than four decades.

"We've lost a dear friend and transformational leader, but the world has lost a medical genius and a great humanitarian," said THI President Dr. James T. Willerson. "Dr. Cooley dedicated his life to healing hearts, and the number of lives he saved and improved over the years cannot be counted."

The son of a Houston dentist, Cooley was born in 1920. He attended Houston public schools and graduated from San Jacinto High School. He attended University of Texas at Austin and University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston for two years before he transferred to Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Cooley graduated from Johns Hopkins in 1944 with highest honors and Alpha Omega Alpha.

Cooley entered the full-time medical faculty of Baylor College of Medicine from 1951 to 1969 when he resigned to lead the Texas Heart Institute. President Ronald Reagan presented Dr. Cooley with the Medal of Freedom in 1984.

Dr. Cooley performed the first successful human heart transplant in the U.S. in 1968 and the first human implantation of a total artificial heart in the world in 1969. He served as Texas Children's Hospital's first chief of cardiovascular surgery and helped in the creation of the Texas Children's Heart Center.

President George H.W. Bush released the following statement on Dr. Cooley's passing:

Barbara and I join the thousands of Houstonians, Americans, and admirers around the world who today are mourning the loss of a true giant, Dr. Denton Cooley. Denton's pioneering contributions to medicine are, of course, legend. But he also was a lifelong and leading citizen of Houston. All of us who call Houston home will always feel blessed to live in the city where Denton founded the Texas Heart Institute, making our hometown the global center of cardiovascular research and technology. You could even say it helps us sleep a little better at night. And of course Denton was a wonderful husband, father, and friend. He will be greatly missed, but we are happy he can rejoin his beloved Louise.