DeBakey was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation's highest civilian award, on April 23, 2008. Specially designed
with DeBakey's likeness on the front, it was commissioned after both houses of Congress approved legislation supporting
the award. President George W. Bush signed the bill in October of 2007.
Reproduced with permission of the Baylor College of Medicine Archives.
DeBakey as Medical Statesman
Box Number: 22
Folder Number: 29
Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very much.
Members of congress, Mr. President, members of the administration and the trustees and faculty members of Baylor College of
Medicine that are here, I want to thank you for coming and helping me enjoy the day together. Ladies and gentlemen, I am speaking
extemporaneously, but let me assure that I realize I need to be succinct and I will be. My first thought of course is to express
my deep-seated and humblest sense of gratitude for this high honor you have afforded me.
As a child growing up in southwest Louisiana, my parents repeatedly emphasized to us as children how important it was and
how we had to be so thankful in being citizens of the United States of America. My parents immigrated to this country as children
from Lebanon, grew up in this country, were educated in this country and flourished in this country. So we had as children
almost everything we needed but the most important thing our parents thought we should have was a good education. For example,
they urged us to get any book from the library at least once a week and read it. I came home one day and said I found a very
good book but they wouldn't let you borrow it, you had to read it in the library. And my father wanted to know what it
was called. I told him it is called the Encyclopedia Britannica. He promptly bought us that. Both my brothers, sisters and
I would rush through our lessons to get a little time with the Encyclopedia Britannica because every time it was a new adventure
and we enjoyed it so much. And I as well as my brothers and sisters had read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica by the time
we got to college. So when I got to college at Tulane, I was probably the best educated freshman on campus but I wanted also
say that one of the other things that I learned a great lesson from my parents was compassion. We had an orphanage in Lake
Charles and every Sunday we would go out after church to visit the orphanage. My mother would cook things and repair our clothes
we had outgrown to give them to the orphanage. One Sunday, she packed a cap I liked. I protested. She reminded me that I had
a new cap and I had parents to give me a new cap and the child who was going to get my old cap didn't. I have never lost
that lesson. I carried it with me the rest of my life.
Now I want to make a suggestion to the Congress about health care. I know that you have been working on this for many, many
years. In fact I was one of President Kennedy's strongest supporters when he came out with Medicare when the medical profession
was strongly against. I thought it was a great idea. I still think it's a great idea. Unfortunately, it's practical
effect has not been that great. So I know you have sought a better health care plan for the needy. And unfortunately it has
been elusive. But there is a model you should look at that I'm thoroughly familiar with because when I was in the military,
I was assigned by the Surgeon General to the committee that (Gen. Omar) Bradley and (Rear Admiral Jean Hodgkin) Hawley worked
on in fixing up the Veterans Administration. We made many suggestions that resulted in a superb medical service. I've
been familiar with the medical services of the Veterans Administration since then. In fact, I developed their research program.
I assure you that you can't find a better model. For one thing, its quality of care is superior. And for another, it provides
that care at half the cost of other agencies both in and out of government. So you see how efficient it is. So there must
be something about what they are doing that we could use to expand our program in health care for the needy.
Finally let me say that I want to extend to the Congress my warm commendation for their understanding and their support of
medical research. You have completely turned around 180 degrees the lackluster medical enterprise of this country from when
I graduated. At that time, if you wanted to proceed in a research program, you had to go to Europe to get additional training.
I went to University of Strasburg for a year and the University of Heidelberg for a year. That has been completely reversed.
The Europeans and other foreign people come to this country now to get their training because it's superior to anything
in the world. And they also come to this country to get special medical service because that's superior to anything in
the world. That's all come about since the 1950s when Congress first started supporting medical research and that really
started with Sen. Lister Hill and I had the good fortune to work with him on many of his projects, especially those associated
with research activities in Bethesda (MD). You have no idea what you've done with medical research in improving the medical
care of this country. It is the envy of the world. I hope you will continue to give it the consideration you've given
it so far. Again, let me come back to my sense of gratitude and because of my sense of high treasure I have for my citizenship.
Since receiving this award, my cup runneth over. Thank you very much.
Presidnet Bush's Remarks:
Madam Speaker, Mr. Leader, members of Congress, fellow Texans, distinguished guests, Dr. and Mrs. DeBakey: I'm honored
to join you on this day of celebration. Throughout our nation's history, the Congressional Gold Medal has been awarded
sparingly, in recognition of the tremendous accomplishments that it takes to earn this high honor. The recipients of this
medal who have come from the world of science are few, but they are iconic -- they include Thomas Edison, Walter Reed and
Jonas Salk. Today we gather to recognize that Michael DeBakey's name belongs among them.
I appreciate the members of the Texas delegation -- Senator Hutchison, Representative Green, and others who sponsored this
As the chancellor emeritus of the Baylor College of Medicine and the director of the DeBakey Heart Center, Dr. DeBakey has
given the citizens of the great state of Texas one more reason to be proud. It's a good thing, too, because we're
usually such a quiet bunch -- (laughter) -- unassuming people.
In the year that Michael DeBakey was born, Theodore Roosevelt sat in the White House, Henry Ford produced the first Model
T automobile, and the average American's life expectancy was a little more than 51 years. That last point is worth noting,
because the number today is nearly 78 years. Our lifetimes have been extended by more than 50 percent within the course of
a century, and the man we're honoring today is part of the reason why.
It was Hippocrates, the author of the doctor's sacred oath, who said, "Wherever the art of medicine is loved, there
also is love of humanity." Truer words could not be spoken of Michael DeBakey. Growing up in the small town of Lake Charles,
Louisiana, he learned the power of compassion at an early age. Every Sunday, as the Speaker noted, Michael's parents and
siblings would load the family car with clothes and food for children who lived in an orphanage on the outskirts of town.
One weekend, the donations included one of his favorite ball caps. When Michael complained, his mother simply told him, "You
have a lot of caps. Those children have none." It was a lesson that he never forgot. And Michael DeBakey has been giving
to the world ever since.
The other gift that Dr. DeBakey's parents gave him was a love of learning. In fact, young Michael's mother and father
required their children to check a book out of the library every week. One week, Michael returned home frustrated and he told
his father that he had found a fascinating book, but that the librarians refused to lend it to him. The book was actually
part of a series -- called the Encyclopedia Britannica. (Laughter.) And when his father bought the set for him, Michael read
every word of every article in every volume.
The charitable spirit and disciplined mind that Michael developed in his youth have lasted throughout his life. It was his
selflessness that caused him to volunteer for World War II even though he was a successful surgeon and professor. It was his
intellect that caused him to help develop the idea of the MASH unit during his service. It was his power of his mind that
led him to become one of the pioneers of the heart transplant, bypass surgery, and the artificial heart. And it was his sense
of compassion that led him to help create a magnet school in Houston for young people pursuing careers in science.
It's been nearly 40 years since President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded Dr. DeBakey the Presidential Medal of Freedom. At
that point, four decades ago, he'd already proven himself to be one of the great scientific minds of his generation. In
the years since, that status is being reaffirmed by the many honors he has received, including the National Medal of Science,
induction into the Health Care Hall of Fame, a lifetime achievement award from the United Nations, and a "living legend"
citation from the Library of Congress.
But that was most interesting in another distinction -- it is this: that Dr. DeBakey was the first foreign physician made
an honorary member of the Russian Academy of Sciences. That took quite an act, to get into the Russian Academy of Sciences
-- all it took was him saving the life of a president. (Laughter.) In 1996, only five years after the Cold War ended, Dr.
DeBakey traveled to Moscow and arranged Boris Yeltsin's quintuple bypass. President Yeltsin spoke for many of Dr. DeBakey's
patients when he called him, "a man with a gift of performing miracles."
Dr. DeBakey has an impressive resume, but his truest legacy is not inscribed on a medal or etched into stone. It is written
on the human heart. His legacy is the unlost hours with family and friends who are still with us because of his healing touch.
His legacy is grandparents who lived to see their grandchildren. His legacy is holding the fragile and sacred gift of human
life in his hands -- and returning it unbroken.
For nearly a hundred years, our country has been blessed with the endless talents and dedication of Dr. Michael DeBakey. And
he has dedicated his career to a truly noble ambition -- bettering the life of his fellow man.
Dr. DeBakey, on behalf of all those you've healed and those you've inspired, we thank you. May God bless you.
And now, I ask the Speaker and Senator Reid to join me for the Gold Medal Presentation. (Applause.)