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The Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center is operated by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs and is located in the Texas Medical Center. It serves Harris and 27 surrounding counties and is one of the Department’s biggest hospitals. Baylor College of Medicine has been a partner since 1949 but the VA is also staffed by the UT Health Science Center at Houston and by students and residents from the University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy.
The VA campus began as a U.S. Navy hospital in 1946; when it was completed it had 39 buildings, 943 beds, and was one of the biggest and most modern hospitals in the Southern United States. During World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt declared that certain military hospitals, including the Navy hospital in Houston, would be transferred to Veterans Affairs after the war. After some delay, the hospital officially became the Houston Veterans Affairs Hospital in April 1949. Paul Manguson, MD, was appointed director in 1948. He found the hospital understaffed and was responsible for establishing the partnership with what was at the time the Baylor University College of Medicine. Around this time, Michael DeBakey, who served in the US Army Medical Corps, realized that the medical data accrued from such a large pool of patients during the war could be invaluable research material and proposed “a follow-up system to determine the natural and post-treatment history of such diseases and conditions as might be selected for study”.
In 1952, a former barracks was converted into a radioisotope laboratory for the study of cancer. Building 203 eventually housed eight laboratories, two culture rooms, a constant temperature instrument room, a preparation room, sterilization room, and cold room. There were also facilities for work on animals, and glassblowing, sheet metal, electronic, and machine shops for maintaining and fabricating laboratory equipment and experimental devices. Dr. DeBakey was working in Building 203 when he started his early vascular surgery studies and experiments with Dacron grafts. The first surgery using a Dacron graft was performed at the Houston VA on September 2, 1954.
The VA was designated a medical center in 1978 to reflect the broad range of treatments it offered. IT officially joined the TMC as its 33rd member institution in 1985. Efforts to modernize the growing hodgepodge of buildings on the 118-acre campus proved impractical so the decision was made to replace them; the current building was completed in 1992.