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UT Mourns the Death of Denton Cooley

The University of Texas at Austin mourns the loss of alumnus, supporter and world-renowned medical pioneer in heart surgery Dr. Denton Cooley (BA, 1941), who died at age 96. 

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The University of Texas at Austin mourns the loss of alumnus, supporter and world-renowned medical pioneer in heart surgery Dr. Denton Cooley (BA, 1941), who died at age 96.

Long before “what starts here changes the world” became the university’s mantra, Cooley encompassed its essence.

Deton Cooley

Denton A. Cooley, M.D., is a world-renowned surgeon and founder of the Texas Heart Institute. Denton A. Cooley, M.D./Texas Heart Institute

“Denton Cooley created new standards of care and drove changes in medicine that improved and saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of patients around the world,” said Gregory L. Fenves, president of UT Austin. “The University of Texas prepares leaders who can benefit society and improve the world — none more so than Dr. Cooley, who continued to give back throughout his life. His legacy on campus and throughout the world will be felt for generations.”

A native of Houston, Cooley attended UT Austin on a basketball scholarship. Majoring in zoology, he graduated with highest honors as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He was later honored in 1966 with the Distinguished Alumnus Award.

After finishing his degree, Cooley attended medical school at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and Johns Hopkins University. At Johns Hopkins, he was a part of the ground breaking operation to correct an infant’s heart, which helped pioneer modern heart surgery. He later conducted the world’s first implantation of a wholly artificial heart.

Denton Cooley operating

Denton Cooley implanting the first total artificial heart in a human on April 4, 1969. he is holding Haskell Karp’s diseased heart in his left hand and the total artificial heart in his right. Denton A. Cooley, M.D./Texas Heart Institute

His heart surgery career lasted for more than 40 years and consisted of more than 120,000 open heart operations.

Of Cooley’s many accomplishments, he often said he was most proud of the Texas Heart Institute in Houston, which he founded in 1962. The mission of the institute is to use education, research and improved patient care to decrease the devastating effects of cardiovascular disease.

“Cooley was one of the titans of American medicine,” said Dr. Clay Johnston, dean of the Dell Medical School, “a superb surgeon but also an impeccable leader. His work benefited many patients but also greatly elevated the profession of medicine.”

“The four years that I spent at UT gave me the knowledge and skills I would need for both medical school and life. Because of what my alma mater gave me, I have always tried to support it in every possible way.” – Denton Cooley, from his memoir “100,000 Hearts

Cooley’s strong connection to UT Austin and love for his alma mater was evident through his philanthropy. Cooley gave generously and is the honoree of three endowments: the Denton and Louise Cooley and Family Centennial Professorship in Nursing, Denton A. Cooley Centennial Professorship in Zoology, and Denton A. Cooley M.D. Endowed Scholarship for athletics. The practice and training facility for the men’s and women’s basketball teams at UT Austin, Cooley Pavilion, is also named in his honor.

Denton Cooley in UT Texas basketball uniform

@TexasMBB Twitter account

“It’s a sad day for Texas Athletics as we’ve lost one of our own,” said Mike Perrin, director of Men’s Athletics. “As a proud member of the T-Association and the Longhorn Men’s Hall of Honor, Cooley’s contributions to Texas Athletics led to the training facility for the Men’s and Women’s Basketball Teams being named in his honor. He will be missed.”

An in memoriam is posted at www.dentonacooley.org.

“On behalf of everyone associated with the Texas Basketball program, both current and past, our sympathy goes out to the family of Dr. Cooley,” said Shaka Smart, coach of the men’s basketball team. “In my interactions with Dr. Cooley, he struck me as an incredibly bright, energetic and loving man who bled burnt orange. We are honored that Dr. Cooley’s name is associated with our practice facility. For our current and future student-athletes, he truly exemplifies taking advantage of the educational opportunities here at The University of Texas and using them to enrich the lives of others.”