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Learning from Dr. Michael DeBakey

I once had a teacher who told me, "Read biographies! Learn about people. It's the best way to understand the world." Recently, I read a fascinating account of a man who has made great contributions to Medicine: Dr. Michael DeBakey. His story is the stuff of a fascinating biography, and teaches us a few things about the business of healthcare. Almost exactly a year ago, Michael DeBakey was at home and suddenly felt overwhelming chest pain. He assumed he was having a heart attack, but since his recent cardiac exam had shown no coronary artery disease and his heart continued to beat, he quickly concluded that he was probably suffering from a dissecting aortic aneurysm. In case you don't recognize the name, Michael DeBakey has been a giant of cardiac surgery, making contributions to everything from coronary bypass techniques to, yes, repairing aortic aneurysms. The surgical innovator was now a candidate for his own surgical technique. The problem was that DeBakey was 97 at the time, and no patient had ever had surgery for this dangerous condition at such an advanced age. The family decisions, medical ethics, professional courtesies and risks make for a fascinating story, which I won't repeat here. Suffice to say, after a long recovery, Dr. Debakey came through, beating the odds on both his condition and his age. The lesson of all this, as I read it, is that Healthcare is one of those areas that we're all in together. We are both providers and beneficiaries. Regardless of our current roles, we all end up as patients at some point. So as we make our contributions as device developers, drug companies, insurers, clinicians, we have to remember that what we sew today is what we will reap later. Play this game with unbridled self-interest today, and we may just be the victim of someone else's unchecked self-interest later. Contribute to saving lives today, and it might just be our own life that will be saved later. Healthcare isn't the only industry that works this way, but it does illustrate one of the most obvious examples of how "what goes around, comes around." It's also an industry that needs to be seriously reshaped for the future. As we all play our part, we would all do well to think long-term about how we can be constructive. At 97, we too may want to draw a dividend from our own investments. The Man on the Table Devised the Surgery - New York Times, December 25th, 2006

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