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In Memoriam: Bill Cook, Angioplasty Pioneer
Founder of Cook Medical Partnered with Physician-Inventors to Create Innovative Equipment: the First Angioplasty Wires and Catheters with Charles Dotter and the First FDA-Approved Coronary Stent with Cesare Gianturco and Gary Roubin
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About Bill Cook
-- Cook Medical

Bill Cook, Medical Device Maker, Dies at 80
-- New York Times

William A. Cook
William A. Cook

April 28, 2011 -- William Alfred Cook, founder of the Cook Group global network of companies and a pioneer in angioplasty, stents and life-saving minimally invasive medical device technology, died on April 15 of congestive heart failure. He was 80 and for half a century was a leading figure in the development of interventional radiology and cardiology.

Bill Cook started his company in 1963 in the spare bedroom of his Bloomington, Indiana apartment. Today, the Cook Group consists of 42 companies employing more than 10,000 people in the United States, Europe, Asia and Latin America.

One of Cook's first sales forays was at the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) in Chicago, where he set up an exhibitor booth, showing wires, guides, catheter tubing and other small items used in diagnostic radiology procedures. He had purchased a Bunsen burner which he used to show how to form the catheters. A visitor to Cook's booth was a radiologist from Portland, Oregon, named Charles Dotter. Dotter had been working on his "crazy idea" of using catheters not just for diagnostic visualization of blocked arteries in the legs, but for treatment. By using progressively wider diameter catheters, Dotter thought he could open these blockages, without surgery.     Bill Cook at 1963 RSNA
Bill Cook at 1963 RSNA
Meeting in Chicago

He called this technique "angioplasty".

A clip from Charles Dotter's 1965 film, "Transluminal
Angioplasty". Dotter wrote, directed and narrated the film.

Charles Dotter and Bill Cook hit it off and Cook began making catheters and wires to Dotter's specifications. Just two months after the RSNA, on January 16, 1964, Dr. Charles Dotter performed the first percutaneous transluminal angioplasty, opening up the blocked leg artery of a patient -- and the era of interventional medicine began, eventually revolutionizing the treatment of vascular blockages.

Dotter was without question the "father" of angioplasty, and Bill Cook's new company was the first manufacturer in this new field. Both men got along because they were plain-talkers, hands on, part of a generation of innovators working out of garages, spare bedrooms and tool shops.

To demonstrate his new technique, Dotter made a movie in 1965, a short clip of which can be seen here. He ends the film correctly predicting that his technique might find its way into the heart. A decade later it did!

Dotter's ideas were scoffed at by many in the medical community who felt that vascular surgery was the best (and only) way to open up clogged arteries. Dotter became known as "Crazy Charlie", but he and Cook persevered and continued to improve upon the equipment.

At that time, angioplasty was not widely accepted in the United States, but a German radiologist, Eberhard Zeitler, started visiting Dotter and he brought the technique to Europe where, in 1974, a young Swiss German angiologist, named Andreas Gruentzig, attended Zeitler's seminar. Within a short time, Gruentzig had added a balloon to Dotter's catheter and performed the first coronary angioplasty. In 1980, Gruentzig honored Dotter at his final course in Zurich, before moving to the U.S.

At Emory University in Atlanta, Gruentzig brought in a young Australian, Dr. Gary Roubin, who with Cesare Gianturco, went on to develop the first FDA-approved coronary stent -- which was made by...Cook Medical!

A 1987 news report from a local Atlanta TV station on a new
medical breakthrough: the coronary stent

By the late 1980's, the new subspecialties of interventional radiology and cardiology had been launched. As stents and other catheter-based devices were developed, open surgery became utilized less and less and the era of medical devices flourished. And, as it did, other medical device companies appeared. In his 2008 biography, "The Bill Cook Story: Ready, Fire, Aim!", Bob Hammel delineates the story of inventions, mergers, affiliations and patent wars that punctuated the next two decades. Eventually Cook decided to cede the area of coronary intervention to others and concentrate on the peripheral applications of these technologies, developing the Zenith Stent Graft for the treatment of abdominal aortic aneurysms and the Zilver PTX paclitaxel-eluting peripheral stent, both of which have demonstrated great efficacy and durability. The Cook companies also expanded into urological equipment, OB/GYN devices, and endoscopic instruments, as well as real estate, travel, and aircraft services. Throughout this era of change, mergers and acquisitions, Cook Medical remained a privately-held corporation -- and, according to company officials, the business will remain that way. Bill Cook's son Carl, 49, has been named chief executive officer of Cook Group, with Steve Ferguson continuing as chairman and Kem Hawkins continuing as Cook Group president. The 2010 annual global revenue for the company was approximately $2 billion.

Although Bill Cook was listed by Forbes Wealthiest Americans this year at number 101, he and his wife Gayle continued to live modestly and to contribute to a number of historical preservation projects in Indiana, as well as sponsoring the Star of Indiana Drum and Bugle Corps, a traveling and performing group of young people. He even produced a Broadway musical, "Blast!" which won a Tony and an Emmy in 2001. His love of music extended to becoming the benefactor for the Cook Music Library, recognized as one of the largest academic music libraries in the world, at the Jacobs School of Music and Bloomington Campus of Indiana University. In addition, Cook companies have provided significant financial support to universities, hospitals and physicians throughout the country in order to aid the advancement of education and medical research.

To honor Bill Cook, the company has set up a web site for people who knew and worked with him to share their thoughts and stories. As of today, there are over 350 posts.

Reported by Burt Cohen, April 28, 2011