Michael E. DeBakey and the National Library of Medicine

George P. Noon, MD, and Shelley McKellar, PhD will give the inaugural Michael E. DeBakey Lecture on March 21, 2017 at 2:00 ET in the Lister Hill Auditorium at the National Library of Medicine. Today, Circulating Now presents an interview with Dr. Noon. George P. Noon is the Meyer-DeBakey Chair in Investigative Surgery and Professor of Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.  Dr. Noon is internationally known and respected for his pioneering research and clinical expertise in transplantation and assist devices.

An informal head and shoulders portrait.Circulating Now: Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? How did you start in medicine?

George P. Noon: I was raised in Nogales, Arizona, the son of a physician and a nurse, and was exposed from an early age to my father’s very busy medical practice. I grew up knowing the dedication to hard work that was required to practice medicine and chose to follow in my father’s footsteps and become a physician. I did my premedical education at the University of Arizona in Tucson, and got my medical degree from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

CN: You were a student, colleague, and friend of Michael E. Debakey; how did you meet him, how did your work with him begin, what was it like to work with Dr. DeBakey?

DeBakey sits at a desk smiling and holding the Laskar award, a statue of a headless woman with wings.
Michael DeBakey, with Lasker Award statuette, ca. 1963

GN: I met Dr. DeBakey in 1958 as a medical student at Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. DeBakey was there doing groundbreaking work in cardiovascular surgery, for which he received a Laskar Award in 1963.  My work and research there continued with a surgical and thoracic residency and I became a faculty member there in 1965. In 1966 DeBakey asked me to join his surgical team and we worked together for many years.  Working for him was demanding and instructive. Those who have worked with Dr. DeBakey remember him for his ability to multitask and his unrelenting pursuit of excellence.

CN: During your work with DeBakey on mechanical ventricular assistance you collaborated with NASA engineers. Would you tell us about that experience?

GN: It all started with an informal discussion we had with a NASA engineer who received a heart transplant at Baylor.  He told us about rocket pumps and introduced us to other engineers who worked with axial flow pumps on the Shuttle. We met formally with NASA engineers in 1988. Then using their expertise we developed an axial flow Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD). The first human implant was in 1998. In 1999, we were inducted into the Space Technology Hall of Fame.

CN: Later this month you’ll be at NLM to talk about “Michael E. DeBakey’s Role in Establishing the National Library of Medicine as It Is Today,” a topic close to our heart. Could you share an anecdote about DeBakey’s relationship to NLM with us?

GN: Dr. DeBakey was a constant user and supporter of the Library starting with his induction into the Army in 1942 until his death in 2008. While in the Army he served in the Surgical Consultants Division of the Army Surgeon General’s Office and was required to research and produce all kinds of documents related to the Surgeon General’s policies.  He used the Army Medical Library (AML), NLM’s predecessor, extensively in this capacity and became well acquainted with its inadequate, overcrowded, and deteriorating building on the Washington, D.C. Mall. In 1946 he became concerned about the Library’s future and joined the joined the Association of Honorary Consultants to the AML. Among others he advocated to congress for the Library to be removed from the Armed Services and legally authorized to operate as a national civilian institution. Finally, after numerous committees and negotiations, Senators Hill and Kennedy introduced Bill S3430 to create a National Library of Medicine. The final decision to be made was where it should be located. The AMA wanted it in Chicago. Dr. DeBakey and others recommended the present site on the campus of the NIH.  When this came to pass in 1956, Debakey was appointed to the new National Library of Medicine’s Board of Regents where he served for many years. Dr. DeBakey felt the NLM was a national and international treasure that should be nurtured and supported as needed to maintain its excellence.

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Dr. George P. Noon’s presentation is part of our ongoing history of medicine lecture series, which promotes awareness and use of the National Library of Medicine and other historical collections for research, education, and public service in biomedicine, the social sciences, and the humanities. All lectures are live-streamed globally, and subsequently archived, by NIH VideoCasting. Stay informed about the lecture series on Twitter at #NLMHistTalk.