Second Opinions

“Kinky, your absence is going to be more devastating than Dan Rather’s leaving the ‘sunken anchor’ biz. Please rethink your aspirations!”

Second Opinions

I was shocked by how my interview concerning the breakup of the Methodist Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine was portrayed in Ms. Mimi Swartz’s article [“ Till Death Do Us Part,” March 2005]. The article takes events out of sequence and my statements out of context so that they convey a different meaning.

Below are five specific examples of her mischaracterizations:

Most disturbing is her implication that I intended to say to Baylor “We will bury you.” In no part of the interview did I say or imply anything of the sort. As a longtime supporter of Baylor, it is unimaginable that my comments or Methodist’s actions could be interpreted this way.

Second, in November 2003, when Baylor made the decision to end talks with Methodist and open them with St. Luke’s Hospital, she claims I said that Methodist announced new patient facilities and a research institute as a “subliminal message” intended to threaten Baylor. I emphatically deny saying those words to her. The patient facilities were conceived years before Baylor’s decision, and with the full participation of Baylor. The Research Institute, announced two months after Baylor’s decision, was the first step in the process of maintaining Methodist as a first-tier academic hospital.

Third, Ms. Swartz uses my statements to imply that Methodist was trying to threaten Baylor in the negotiations. In fact, when Baylor turned to St. Luke’s, Methodist had no choice but to devise a new strategic plan in which Baylor had indicated its desire to play a lesser role. Ms. Swartz altered the meaning of my statements to imply that Methodist was on a new course. I said, “If in the future Baylor comes back to the negotiating table, Methodist could be on a different path.” This simply meant that if resumed at a later date, talks could be more difficult if both institutions went in different directions. My statement was made out of sadness and concern that the affiliation was ending.

The fourth mischaracterization comes when I am quoted as saying “Methodist is not going to play second fiddle to St. Luke’s.” This was not said in November 2003, as implied, but in April 2004, after Baylor had signed an agreement with St. Luke’s. I said Methodist could not play second fiddle because we would have sustained financial and strategic harm by signing an agreement limited by the new St. Luke’s agreement.

The last error involves the quote “We’ve gotten a divorce, but the wife still wants to live in the master bedroom.” Ms. Swartz places this quote so it appears to refer to a threatened lawsuit by Baylor when in fact it refers to the split-up of joint programs, shared ownership of facilities, joint chiefs of clinical service, common physicians, and shared office space that have been a part of Methodist/Baylor for fifty years.

I worked extremely hard to keep Baylor and Methodist together. My family and I have been strong financial supporters of Baylor for over thirty years, and I would never wish harm to Baylor. It is my sincere hope that both Baylor and Methodist succeed with their new arrangements and that the Texas Medical Center emerges stronger. That being said, I am deeply saddened and upset by what has happened.

Ernest H. Cockrell

Member, Methodist Board of Directors

Houston

As Dr. Michael DeBakey’s sister and colleague, I have several comments to make about “ Till Death Do Us Part.”

It was not that “DeBakey accused Cooley … of using [the artificial heart Dr. DeBakey] had been developing … in Baylor labs”; it was the National Institutes of Health that launched an investigation regarding a breach of its ethical code by premature clinical implantation of an experimental device, which threatened Baylor College of Medicine’s eligibility for government grants. Dr. DeBakey, the grant’s principal investigator, was not apprised of the plan for the human experiment. The investigation resulted in disciplinary action against the surgeons who implanted the device.

The speculation “By the mid-sixties, [Dr. DeBakey] was probably the richest surgeon in the world … ” is errant, since, as the article stated, Dr. DeBakey donated half his fees to Baylor, and he underwrote the expenses of indigent patients and charged no fees to colleagues, ministers of all faiths, and teachers, among others.

Dr. DeBakey’s goal was never profit or wealth; he has always been driven by a fervent desire to help the ailing and improve human health. Thus, he chose an academic career, volunteered for military service when World War II was declared, and remained in service beyond his discharge date to care for the wounded and help organize a veterans’ health care system, so he had little opportunity to accumulate great savings, although he was never impoverished. He could have obtained a loan to purchase his home in Houston, as most young people do, but his parents, knowing of his personal sacrifices, wanted him to have the home as a gift. Dr. DeBakey was fortunate to have a privileged childhood, because his parents were prosperous and loving. Advocates of the highest possible education, they fully financed his postgraduate medical studies abroad during the Depression.

The final statement in the article requires elucidation. Dr. DeBakey would never breach etiquette or decorum by requesting that contributions be made in his deceased son’s memory. Ernest’s obituary expressed Ernest’s own wishes: That in lieu of flowers, those who wished to make donations could send them to the Methodist Hospital, the DeBakey Medical Foundation, or the charity of their choice. Ernest appreciated the excellent care he received at Methodist and was aware that the DeBakey Foundation has financially supported various programs at Baylor for decades.

As for pedigrees, our family takes great pride in our genteel lineage, noble heritage, family honor, and integrity, all of which stand high on their own merits. That the contributions of Dr. DeBakey and three siblings merit entries in Who’s Who is unusual for any family.

Regarding ad hominem comparisons—odious in Shakespeare’s opinion—beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. As for charm, Dr. DeBakey has charmed princes and paupers and,

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