Roger Gray

January 1, 2002 by  
Filed under Edit

In Your Face

by Roger Gray

A 19th Century Idea Whose Time has Come?

As I write this in November, I have no idea who the mayor is, how many firefighters will be riding on trucks or whom Orlando Sanchez is dating. I do know that we will be riding a train of some sort before long thanks to the common sense of Houston voters. While wanting a say in future lines, they wisely ignored the various “grassroots” groups of Luddite buttinskis with names that are actually a sentence (“Let the People Vote On Light Rail”), who want us to remain the country’s fourth largest traffic jam masquerading as a city.

“And do You Take This Man to be Your-Your-Uh?”

Meanwhile, see the preacher or you aren’t getting city benefits for your partner. The voters decided that, all things considered, a marriage license is the entry-level requirement for a family plan. This is one of those issues that leave thoughtful people in a quandary. While I agree with the moral philosophy in play here, it also forces me to agree with Dave Wilson on something. That may require deep reflection and a stiff scotch.

Lance Lalor, Come Home- All is Forgiven-

Elsewhere, Houston voters proved they were pretty satisfied with their council representation, which should be considered a collective plea for, well, counseling. Mark Goldberg withstood a tough fight with his ex-wife, which is no doubt the result of years of practice. And Bert “What 3-foot rule?” Keller was inexplicably re-elected even after drunken car wrecks, drunken marriage wrecks and knowing the Men’s Club dancers’ roster like some of us know the ?61 Yankees. No doubt, the victory party observed all applicable city ordinances.

No Wonder the Astros Performed Below Estimates-

Enron only thought the worst it had to deal with was an SEC investigation into inflated profits (to the tune of $600 million in five years), resulting in inflated stock prices resulting in inflated stock bonuses for executives, plus the humiliating prospect of being bought by a smaller company. But now – as Enron files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and tacks on a $10 bllion lawsuit against Dynegy for scrapping their proposed merger – the party’s over. Through it all, Ken Lay stood tall as the man who turned down $60 million in severance he was due if Dynegy had bought his company. This profile in courage was marred only somewhat by the fact that Enron worker unrest was apparently the reason. As their stock values dropped like a Roger Clemens slider, Ken cashed in big during the false profits boom, and before the torches and pitchforks were raised, chose the statesmanlike path of turning down a golden parachute big enough to support Dom DeLuise. Will someone please introduce Ken to a conscience?

Nurse, I Know We’ve Lost Brain Function, but it’s OK-
They’re in Congress-

Last month, I attributed the opposition to federal airport security screeners by our two domestic Mullahs, Dick Armey and Tom DeLay, as some sort of Pavlovian resistance to “big government.” As the compromise was hammered out, it was revealed they really worried about the new federal hires becoming union members. “This vote is ideological,” DeLay said to airline lobbyists while encouraging them to sit this one out. While marveling at the word “idea” being associated with Tom, I can’t help but be fascinated with the blindness of partisanship. The voters in DeLay’s district must be satisfied with party politics taking precedence over principle. It’s frankly getting beyond jokes for me. DeLay is not only dim but malevolent.

Our Own Political Warren Beatty?

Meanwhile, the Prez is going from strength to strength in the personal relationships department. He apparently turned the normally earnest but slightly smug Tony Blair into a Fuller Brush salesman for the war, and now has traded frat pins with Vladimir Putin. One visit to the White House and the ranch, and the taciturn former USSR spook left here mumbling absolutely incomprehensible profundities about cowboy boots. Which leaves only one question: is GW drugging these guys? If so, could he work on Sharon, Arafat and Bill Mahr?

Personal Victory

January 1, 2002 by  
Filed under Edit

What is Your Greatest Personal Victory?

Mimi Dinh

In these tough times, it’s easy for anyone who is not a firefighter, volunteer or soldier to feel irrelevant. We have done our share of private battles of despair, guilt and anger. So let’s start the new year off by shifting away from those negative feelings for a moment and dig deeper to find something positive that makes us feel good. As we are waiting for victory for our nation, it seems a good idea for us to lift each other’s spirit and inspire one another by sharing personal victories of our own.

Mine was undoubtedly the day my daughter Kellie was born four years ago. I knew then that my job had only begun. My goal and challenge is to raise her into a loving, caring, self-reliant, responsible human being. Each time I’ve succeeded in making her understand why she should or shouldn’t do something, I’ve beamed with pride. In return, she’s taught me patience and selflessness, encouraged me to be in touch with my inner child and showed me unconditional love in its purest form. I consider each of her milestones a victory, each lesson we taught each other a treasure. This is not a declaration of victory in parenting (since our job is really never done), it’s a declaration of joy in the simple, yet incredible act of creating a true miracle.

My greatest personal victory came when I learned there was life after failure. I used to be petrified by the possibility of failure. But the day I realized I would still wake up the morning after I had really blown it, my life became much easier. It sounds really corny and trite, but when you take the fear out of failure, you wind up with a lot more victories.

Steven Devadanam, editor and writer, UKP

Building a successful business as a single parent. My accomplishments in business and as a mom are each cause for celebration in and of themselves. But doing both successfully at the same time makes me feel especially proud.

Sara Brook, owner, Dessert Gallery Bakery & Café

Founding WorldFest in 1961, which has grown into one of the world’s oldest and longest running film festivals. The Steven Spielbergs of today will premiere their films at this years WorldFest.

Hunter Todd, founder and executive director, WorldFest

My biggest personal victory came in 1993, when I realized I could “have it all” without having to sacrifice time with my family or work. I closed my public relations office at the end of that year to work part-time out of my home. That way, I could have a more balanced life to enjoy my husband and two daughters, as well as my career.

Susan Farb, president, Susan Farb Public Relations

My greatest victory is my career. I’ve wanted to be in the hotel and restaurant industry since the sixth grade. I arrived in Houston from India in 1989 and ended up in the University of Houston?s Conrad N. Hilton School. After finishing school in 1994, I went to Orlando to work as a restaurant manager for Walt Disney World and later at its All-Star Resorts. I moved back to Houston in 1996 and started with La Strada as a manager, and in January of 2001 was promoted to vice president of operations and marketing. This is not just a job for me; it’s a passion. Needless to say, I never went back to India.

Viral Patel, vice president of operations and marketing, La Strada

Denton Cooley

January 1, 2002 by  
Filed under Edit

King of Hearts

After more than 60 years and nearly 200,000 surgical procedures, Dr. Denton Cooley continues to break new ground in the world of medicine

by Aaron Howard

The hands of Dr. Denton Cooley are deep inside his patient’s abdomen looking for an artery. Of course, the 71-year-old male patient is deep under anesthesia and doesn’t feel any pain as Cooley lifts away a handful of intestines to get to the aorta in the distal area of the gut.

Pain is what brought the patient here to the Texas Heart Institute. After a series of tests, his physicians back in California said it was a condition called intestinal angina. Just like angina associated with the heart, it’s a problem caused by low blood flow. Somewhere in the abdomen, there’s probably an aortic aneurysm – a major blood vessel whose wall is damaged and bulging.

So they sent the patient to Denton Cooley because they want a highly experienced cardiovascular surgeon to explore and fix the problem. Given Cooley’s reputation as “The King of Hearts,” the first surprise is that I’m watching him operate in the gut, not the chest. But Cooley is chief of cardiovascular surgery at St. Luke’s Hospital. That means the whole circulation, not just the heart. And Cooley wrote the book on surgical treatment of aortic aneurysms, one of 10 medical texts he’s authored.

The second surprise is that at age 81, Cooley still performs surgery. He does about three operations a week compared to the 12 a day he used to perform in the early 1980s. Even if he never did a single surgical operation again, it would be enough. Cooley has performed nearly 200,000 surgical procedures in his long career.

Over six decades, his enduring legacy is that he has participated in every major development in cardiovascular surgery. One look around the operating room will tell you that. That retractor, used to pull back the outer layers of the abdomen, is a Cooley invention. So is the oxygenator, which circulates oxygen-rich blood through the patient’s body during surgery. As is the headlamp and lens worn around the surgeon’s head to illuminate and magnify the eight-inch surgical incision Cooley is working in. And the Dacron graft that Cooley will use to repair the superior mesenteric artery – another one of his inventions, some 200 surgical products in all.

As an intern at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 1944, Cooley assisted in the first “blue baby” operation, creating a shunt for the relief of cyanosis in tetralogy of Fallot. Until then, this heart defect caused extreme cyanosis (shortage of oxygen at the cellular level), the characteristic blue skin color, which often progressed to death.

Seeing these blue babies suddenly turn pink as the clamps on their blood vessels were released after the shunt, Cooley turned to cardiovascular surgery.

Since coming back home to Houston in 1951, Cooley is best known for performing the first successful heart transplant in the United States and for being the first surgeon in the world to keep a patient on an artificial heart. Less appreciated by the general public are some of Cooley’s innovations in cardiovascular surgery. He introduced techniques for repair of post-infarction ventricular septal defects, excision of left ventricular aneurysms and the embolectomy for massive pulmonary embolism. He’s also designed several artificial heart valves and introduced the use of a bloodless solution in heart-lung machines, an advance that greatly decreased the risk of open-heart surgery.

As president and surgeon-in-chief, Cooley has led the Texas Heart Institute to become world famous in cardiology. More than 1,900 physicians have learned to treat cardiovascular disease here.

Dr. Paulo Moreno is a cardiovascular surgeon at one of Brazil’s top heart centers. “For me and a lot of surgeons in Brazil, Cooley is a landmark,” says Moreno, who has been a visiting surgeon at the Texas Heart Institute during the past year.

“I wanted to come to Houston to see who this amazing person is and to improve my knowledge. He’s not only a good surgeon, he’s an academic man. The way he teaches and inspires his team, he’s the soul of the institution.”

Still, there’s no guarantee that a center of excellence won’t lose its edge when its creator departs. That’s why Cooley’s fondest hope is that the Texas Heart Institute, like the Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins, will endure as a center of excellence after he retires. A big part of that legacy will unfold on Jan. 17 with the dedication of the Denton A. Cooley Building, a 10-story, 327,000-square-foot structure that will take the Texas Heart Institute into the new century. There’s no question as to who will perform the first surgery in one of the 11 Cooley Building’s 600-square-foot operating rooms.

Like Michael Jordan on a basketball court, Cooley’s got game in the operating room. Dena Houchin, R.N., Clinical Coordinator for Cardiovascular Surgery at the Texas Heart Institute, describes it as an extreme simplicity of style. “In terms of technique, Dr. Cooley uses a minimum of equipment. His idea is to use only what you need. He always looks for the simple way to make a repair. There’s never a wasted motion. He’s the opposite of cut and slash. He always seems to get right to the point.

“What takes him an hour to do would take most other surgeons three or five hours. When he trains residents, he almost makes it look too easy,” says Houchin.

As Cooley locates the aneurysm, he begins to sew in the graft that will restore normal blood flow in the abdomen. No doubt his patient will immediately appreciate the relief of pain in his gut. What he’ll never know is how much less post-surgical pain he’s going to experience. Because Cooley is so clean and quick, his patients usually experience less pain in the first 48 hours of recovery. That means fewer narcotics after surgery.

A week after watching the surgery, I’m sitting in Dr. Cooley’s office on the second floor at St. Luke’s Hospital. The office is cluttered with photographs, plaques, medals and books. One photo that captures my attention is that of a 19-year-old Cooley wearing basketball uniform No. 27. It was taken in 1939, the year that Cooley led the University of Texas to the Southwest Conference Championship.

The son of a prominent Houston dentist, an All-City basketball player and the academic head of his class, it would seem that Cooley had it all from the beginning. But Cooley has a different take on his success.

“I always deplore people, usually men, who claim to be self-made when they accomplish a lot,” he says. “They overlook the basic (advantages) they were given at birth: being white, male, Protestant and born into a whole, loving family. I was lucky to have this kind of head start.”

Originally enrolled in a pre-dental program, Cooley switched to pre-med after a visit to a medical student friend who was working in a San Antonio emergency room. Later, Cooley was about to take a rotating internship when a professor of surgery convinced the young medical student to take a straight surgical internship at Johns Hopkins. That’s where Cooley was stimulated to go into cardiovascular surgery.

“All of us have opportunities,” he says, “but not all of us seize those opportunities with insight.”

Given the chance to participate with Dr. Alfred Blalock in the first “blue baby” operation as an intern, Cooley seized the opportunity. Twelve months later, he was Blalock’s first assistant on the heart team and then coordinator of the new cardiac service. Cardiovascular surgery was at the cutting edge in the 1940s and 50s, and Cooley was there at the outset. In an era of cardiac exploration and discovery, Cooley pushed the limits.

“There was an obligation on my part to test new ideas,” he says. “Of course, I had the protection of an institute here at the medical center. The individual practitioner would be so vulnerable that he could not take those risks. But working here, I felt I was somewhat insulated from the critics.”

And Cooley certainly had critics, especially in 1969. That’s when he first implanted a highly tested but FDA-unapproved artificial heart in a patient, Haskell Karp, who was dying of advanced cardiovascular disease while waiting for a heart transplant.

The artificial heart had limited success and Karp died. His widow brought a suit against Cooley, alleging, among other things, that Karp did not understand what was being proposed to him and thus did not give a knowing consent. In the case that followed (Karp v. Cooley), the court found that the entire procedure had been explained to Karp, and a detailed consent form had been signed that described the procedure, its experimental nature and its great risks. The case remains a landmark example of informed consent in health law.

According to Cooley, taking risks means having the courage to fail.

“A child learning to walk sometimes falls,” says Cooley, “but he has the courage to get up again. We often lose that courage as we get older. One starts a family. Numerous obligations and all sorts of controls are put on you. So you become more cautious as you go along. Some of us try to ignore these concerns and maintain a determination to proceed to a new level.”

An avid lifelong golfer, Cooley last year sank his first hole in one. It was on a 165-yard par three hole, made in the presence of 11 chiefs of surgery from the major American medical institutions.

At 81 years of age, Cooley is still ready to take it to the next level.

The Golden Spike: Kicking and Screaming Our Way Into the Middle Ages

January 1, 2002 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

The Golden Spike: Kicking and Screaming
Our Way Into the Middle Ages

We all know the chronology:

After hundreds of millions of dollars worth of contracts were let, in 2000, work began on a light rail system down Houston’s Main Street, complete with torn-up streets, heavy equipment and hard hats.

Then, a petition circulated around town to let voters decide whether to have light rail.

Some observers in Houston thought this was putting the streetcar before the mule, while most people outside Houston were laughing their heads off.

More than 20,000 civic-minded Houstonians signed the petition, and the question was put on the ballot. This allowed Houstonians to, in effect, vote on whether to vote to have light rail.

In November 2001, the voters approved the plan to vote on whether to vote. The news was reported on the Comedy Network.

(Flash forward.)

In the next election, in 2002, voters rejected light rail in Houston.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts were then let to pull up the rails and pave over Main Street. Observers said much of the credit could go to factions of the local Republican Party, which found light rail systems “unproven.” (This sentiment also applied to indoor plumbing.) Some citizens objected to pouring asphalt, saying that the action didn’t go backwards enough. “If mud streets were good enough for Sam Houston, they’re good enough for us.” A new petition was circulated, but the city clerk threw out several signatures, explaining, “It’s hard to read something written with a goose-quill pen.”

This movement soon gave rise to a new political power in Houston, the Luddites, whose motto was: “Never trust anything under 80.” A petition was soon making the rounds demanding that voters decide on the prohibition of satellite dishes, doorbells and most hinges. “The Houston public has never had a voice in these matters,” said U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay. “We need to vote just like they do in the other 12 states.”

When City Council took up the matter of devoting more freeway lanes to HOV (Horse Occupancy Vehicles), the Luddites were in full force. They proclaimed, “If God wanted man to move swiftly, he would have given us Rollerblades. Besides, if we move too fast, we might fall off the edge of the Earth.” A spin-off group, Friends of Smog, picketed several local flower nurseries. A spokesman said, “We’re here to show that the greenhouse effect is a myth.” They were joined by the General Association for Supporting Pollution, or GASP. When a reporter tried to explain that it was a different kind of greenhouse, a chant went up, “Hang the liberal media!”

It was at a meeting of the Taliban Friendship Society (its motto: “A woman’s place is in the cave.”) that some of the more progressive Luddites got the idea of circulating yet another petition calling on the City Council to issue a proclamation limiting city purchases to earth, wind and fire. When that effort failed, the group tried again, this time getting 20,000 signatures on a petition requiring that the city issue the following proclamation:

Whereas, for his keen observation of our country’s progress, and,

Whereas, his foresight kept our nation from needlessly expending hard-earned pelts and beads,

Be it enacted that this day shall be proclaimed Charles H. Duell Day.*

The proclamation further called on all citizens to show support for this day by turning on their whale oil lamps.

As might be expected, some of these actions were not totally supported by all Houstonians. There were those, for example, who questioned the need for cavalry outposts at the city limits, while others objected to the creation of the City Department of Inquisition. A brief period on the city’s dunking stool changed their minds.

Nothing lasts forever, and after a period of time, the Luddites lost their luster. Membership fell off as defectors joined a new and more progressive organization, the Whig Party. The news was so startling that a reporter rushed into the City Room of the Houston Apologist yelling, “Stop the chisels!”

* As Commissioner of the U.S. Office of Patents in 1899, Charles H. Duell wrote to President William McKinley urging that the office be abolished, explaining, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” ih