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  Vol. 21, No. 23  Previous Table of Contents Home  Next December 15, 1999 

December 1996

"Operation Was Complete Success,"Says Dr. DeBakey

After one of the most anticipated and closely watched surgeries ever performed, Dr. Michael E. DeBakey predicted that the patient, Russian President Boris Yeltsin, would have a "rapid recovery and would be a much more vigorous man" than he was prior to the surgery.

President Yeltsin underwent quintuple bypass surgery on Nov. 5 in Moscow.

Dr. DeBakey, chancellor emeritus of Baylor College of Medicine and senior attending surgeon at The Methodist Hospital, journeyed to Moscow in September to advise his Russian colleagues and the patient about the planned surgery.

Clearly, the Russian team of surgeons had concerns about the open-heart surgery, a surgery that is relatively rare in Russia. And just as clearly, Dr. DeBakey's forthright and optimistic prognosis calmed worldwide concern about the famous patient's health.

During September, while President Yeltsin recovered from anemia and regained some strength prior to having the bypass surgery, the Russian and American heart surgeons agreed that the Americans would observe the surgery and would bring with them devices for both short- and long-term ventricular assistance, should the heart fail.

"Fortunately, neither the device nor I was needed," says Dr. George Noon, professor of surgery at Baylor and senior attending surgeon at The Methodist Hospital, who accompanied Dr. DeBakey to Moscow. Dr. Noon's expertise in use of the left ventricular assist system (LVAS) and the implantable battery-powered LVAS Novacor blood pump might have been called to use "should the heart have failed."

Dr. DeBakey and Dr. Noon observed the actual surgery by the 12-member surgical team via closed circuit television from an adjoining room. Also observing were Dr. Clarence Alfrey, professor of medicine at Baylor and senior attending physician and director of the Hematology Research Laboratory at Methodist; and Dr. David Yawn, professor of pathology at Baylor and director of the Transfusion Service and the Blood Donor Center at Methodist. Dr. Alfrey and Dr. Yawn were consultants on the case because of President Yeltsin's anemia.

"The anemia was transient," says Dr. Alfrey. "The Russian doctors did an outstanding job of dealing with it."

"They were extremely easy to work with," says Dr. Yawn of his Russian colleagues. "They spoke very good English."

Only rarely has a surgery been so closely followed in the world press. Part of the drama was due, of course, to President Yeltsin's status as a world leader, and another part of the drama was due to his forceful nature. Almost pitted against each other were the President and his team of doctors. Dr. Renat Akchurin, the Russian surgeon who led the team and who had studied under Dr. DeBakey, called his patient "an extreme case" of independence and will. During his recent run for the Russian presidency, Yeltsin routinely ignored his doctors' advice.

"He couldn't have carried on much longer," says Dr. DeBakey about seeing President Yeltsin in September. At that time, Yeltsin's heart was operating at only about 20 percent of its normal capacity. "Just working two to three hours exhausted him."

"His cardiac rehabilitation will be similar to what we do here," says Dr. DeBakey. "A structured program of exercise and diet - and, actually, the low-fat diet was begun in September. But he will need constant reminders that he is still a patient."

Speaking of his well-known patient, Dr. DeBakey says, I told him that he'd had a good scare, but that if he followed his doctors' advice he would have a long life. He's a highly motivated individual. That's what makes him a good patient."

When they said their good-bye's, the patient gave his American physician a bear-hug.

- ROGER WIDMEYER & DENNY ANGELLE

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