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Houston doctor holds world records for heart transplants, artificial heart surgeries

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Houston is known for world famous heart surgeons Dr. Denton Cooley and the late Dr. Michael DeBakey. Kings and presidents came to Houston to be their patients. But there's another heart surgeon here who holds the world records for most heart transplants and most artificial heart surgeries. Today he's known for saving the life of the "bionic bride."

"He's my first, second and third chance, and he never gave up," Ally Smith Babineaux said.

If you ask Babineaux, she is alive today because of Dr. Bud Frazier. He developed the battery-operated heart pump Babineaux wore over her wedding dress thus her nickname, "the bionic bride." That pump kept Babineaux alive long enough to get a new heart, and he performed the transplant surgery, too.

"All the patients that he's saved, the number's huge," Babineaux said.

"The total artificial hearts and all these LVADs that are being used today started basically around this desk," Dr. Frazier said.

Dr. Frazier didn't just design these pumps, he and his team at the Texas Heart Institute have implanted 1,000 LVADs, a world record.

"It's gratifying to me to see them alive and doing well because I know they wouldn't have had that opportunity if we hadn't done this work," Dr. Frazier said.

Ken Woychesin is alive because of a total artificial heart. Dr. Frazier has implanted at least 15. And he holds another record: He's transplanted 1,316 hearts -- more than any surgeon in the world.

Dr. Frazier says it's not about the surgical records that he holds or the heart pumps that he helped develop. He says what keeps him working the long days is the memory of some of the patients that he couldn't save.

The face of a young Italian boy who died looking into his eyes is seared into his memory. That's when his mission to develop a heart pump began.

Today, 20,000 of his heart pumps have been used to save people, and one of them was Babineaux.

"She's alive and well thank you. That's the gratifying thing but it took 40 years," Dr. Frazier said.

He says there were no vacations, he never played golf. Instead, he reads Shakespeare to relax. He had "King Lear" in his pocket when he saw Babineaux.

He trained with both Dr. Michael DeBakey and Dr. Denton Cooley. And at 73, he has no plans to retire He's testing a new artificial heart that they're making on a 3D printer.

"I really want to see these projects through," Dr. Frazier said.

And so do his patients.

"If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be here. There's no doubt about that at all," Babineaux said.

Find Christi on Facebook at ABC13-Christi Myers or on Twitter at @ChristiMyers13

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