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If you like Denton Cooley's story, you might also like:
Tenley Albright,
Keith Black,
Benjamin Carson,
Paul Farmer,
Judah Folkman,
Willem Kolff and
Thomas Starzl

Denton Cooley's recommended reading: Miss Susie Slagle's

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Denton Cooley in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Frontiers of Medicine

Related Links:
Texas Heart Institute

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Denton Cooley
Denton Cooley
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Denton Cooley Interview (page: 2 / 9)

Pioneer of Heart Transplants

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  Denton Cooley

Dr. DeBakey, what drew you to become a physician?

Denton Cooley Interview Photo
Michael DeBakey: There were physicians in my family. My father was in the pharmaceuticals business and, in a small town, the drug store is a place where doctors hang out and have their prescriptions filled. I got to see a lot of doctors and was immersed in it in the drug store. I decided I wanted to be a doctor, that's all.

What was it like growing up in Cajun country? What was your boyhood like in Louisiana?

Michael DeBakey: Well, it was very nice. Lake Charles a small town, and everybody knows everybody. When I was growing up, the population was about 13,000. There was a church on every corner, so the churches had a great influence on your life. Not only through Sunday school but, for example, the Boy Scout troop I belonged to was sponsored by the church. I played in the band, and the orchestra, and went to camp every summer which was also sponsored by the Boy Scouts. Fortunately, I made good grades in school. I liked school, I enjoyed it.

My parents were supportive of our learning. For example, they insisted that we go to the library and pick up a book once a week at least, in addition to what we did (for school). In fact, I came back and I told my father that I had found some books that I thought were very fascinating, and it sure would be nice if we had some at home like that. And he said, what is it, and I said, the Encyclopaedia Britannica. And so he did, he bought it for us. And every one of us -- I read the whole Encyclopaedia Britannica before I got to college. And all of my sisters and brothers did the same thing. So you know, it's a fascinating world. It was like the whole world opening up, when you read something like that.

Dr. Cooley, were you very extroverted as a child?

Denton Cooley Interview Photo
Denton Cooley: No, on the contrary. I think I was very introverted and shy. I didn't participate in a lot of social activities in high school. I didn't have any dates in school. It was always sort of a joke that I had only three dates during my entire high school career, and those were with the same girl for the Christmas dance sponsored by our high school social club. The rest of the time, I did not have dates. I was more interested in sports, and the outdoors, than I was in the usual social activities.

Were you a particularly good student early on? Were you very motivated?

Denton Cooley: I was determined to make good grades. I was a straight "A" student, both in high school and in college.

What other interests did you have as a kid? What sports or hobbies interested you?

Denton Cooley Interview Photo
Denton Cooley: I was a varsity basketball player for four years at the University of Texas. I was on the championship Southwest Conference Basketball team. I also enjoyed golf and tennis, and other sports. I divided my time mostly between athletics and my studies. It was not easy for me to make straight A's in college and play varsity sports. But I was determined to do so, and I did. I graduated Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors.

You probably didn't sleep a whole lot.

Denton Cooley: I think I slept as much as some of my comrades. You do have to budget your time if you want to do these things in college. In my opinion, you should put your major emphasis upon your studies.

A surgeon needs tremendous self-confidence. Where do you think that confidence comes from? Did you always have this as a kid?

Denton Cooley: No, I didn't. I think confidence is something you build gradually, with experience.

I've always felt that maybe one of the reasons that I did well as a student and made such good grades was because I lacked confidence. Lacked self-confidence, and I never felt that I was prepared to take an examination, and I had to study a little bit extra. So that sort of lack of confidence helped me, I think, to make a good record when I was a student. But since I finished my medical training, and so on, at that level, I've gained self-confidence over a period of years. And had a great deal of experience in everyday surgery.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

So even the shyness you described as a kid might have been a benefit in some ways, because it kept you working.

Denton Cooley: I think so. By being shy, I steered away from a lot of the activities that most young people get involved with. I studied harder. I wanted to play sports too, but my emphasis was always on excelling.

When you were growing up, were there any particular books that inspired you?

Denton Cooley: As a child, I mostly read boys' magazines and books. I don't recall any particular book that really inspired me.

During college, I enjoyed reading biographies, or fictional works based on real experiences. One book that influenced my decision to apply to medical school was Miss Suzie Slagle's by Augusta Tucker. That was a book about some young men living in a boarding house while they were going to Johns Hopkins medical school.

Did you decide you wanted to go there yourself?

Denton Cooley: Yes, I did. That book influenced me greatly to enter Johns Hopkins, and to live some of the experiences described in that book.

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This page last revised on Sep 29, 2010 18:05 EST
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