Still Working After 90 Years

At the crack of a Texas dawn, Dr. Michael DeBakey is on the move, leaving the house he built a half century ago for the daily mile-and-a-half drive to Houston's Baylor College of Medicine.

"I slept almost five hours, so a little longer than usual," he tells CBS News Correspondent John Roberts.

DeBakey says he likes living minutes away from the hospital so that he has more time to work. It's work that has driven him all his life and helped him lead a medical revolution.

DeBakey pioneered coronary bypass surgery, implanted the first mechanical heart pump, and invented the roller pump, which made the heart-lung machine and open heart surgery possible. He has advised every president since Truman, been recognized with 53 honorary degrees, and won the coveted Lasker Award for Medicine.

Through it all, he's barely noticed the last 90 years slip by. "Physically - fortunately -- and mentally, I feel like I've always felt," DeBakey says. "And I'm still doing most everything I want to do that I used to be able to do."

Mostly what DeBakey does is stay busy. He's still working 16-hour days and still traveling. On the particular day when he spoke with CBS News, he was headed for the state capitol to meet the governor.

"Hi, Dr. DeBakey," Gov. George W. Bush says upon the physician's arrival. "I want to find the fountain of youth. You've obviously found it!"

Even as he was honored for a lifetime of service, state legislators wondered how DeBakey keeps going. "Some of it is heredity. There's no question about that," he says. " And some of it is attitude. Every day new challenges are there, and to me, that's the zest of life."

For all his time spent as a medical statesman and researcher, Dr. DeBakey's first love is the operating room, the place he calls home.

After sixty years and more than 60,000 operations, his hands are as steady as any surgeon half his age and his mind still so sharp that he'll pick up what other doctors miss. As he did two years ago, when he contradicted Russian doctors who had concluded Boris Yeltsin's heart disease was inoperable.

"I went in to tell him that he could be operated on and should be operated on and that I thought he would do well," DeBakey says, noting that Yeltsin was very eager to go through with the surgery that saved his life.

So what is the secret to DeBakey's vitality? He lives a healthy life: doesn't smoke, doesn't drink, and eats sensibly. However, when it comes to exercise, he has adapted a more casual attitude. "I don't feel like I need to," he says. "And I'm glad to see some of these studies that show that just fidgeting is good for you."

The biggest secret to DeBakey's longevity may be that he never retired and has never stopped setting goals. His latest invention, a miniature heart pump he developed with NASA, may eliminate the need for many heart transplants.

DeBakey hopes to continue maing breakthroughs in medicine, well into his 100's. "As long as the good Lord will let me," he laughs.

As long as there's another heart to mend, another discovery to be made, Michael DeBakey will have a reason to come back to work tomorrow.


Reported By John Roberts
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

Comments

Follow Us

On Twitter