Tohma Morrison

Legends in Pediatric Surgery

Tohma Morrison
Legends in Pediatric Surgery

When Texas Children's Hospital opened in 1954, our chief surgeon, Dr. Luke W. Able was the first and only pediatric surgeon in Houston. In 1958, the first women in the U.S. to train as a pediatric surgeon, Dr. Benji Brooks, joined the team. Today, the Department of Surgery at Texas Children's Hospital has 10 surgical subspecialties with more than 100 surgeons and 700 staff dedicated to pediatric surgical care, education and research.

Dr. Jim Harberg was appointed chief of General Surgery Services in 1970.

Dr. Jim Harberg was appointed chief of General Surgery Services in 1970.


In the late 1940s and 1950s, Dr. Luke W. Able was the first and only pediatric surgeon in Houston. Operating out of St. Joseph’s Hospital, Dr. Able was acutely aware of the need for a children’s hospital with infant-sized operating room equipment and specialized services. So when efforts were underway to build such a hospital, Dr. Able enthusiastically accepted the offer to join Texas Children’s Hospital. 

Surgery services at Texas Children’s slowly but steadily expanded in the early days. One issue that had to be debunked was pediatricians’ fears of referring children for surgery. Many pediatricians felt that it was safe to refer older children for surgery but not young ones. Pediatricians doubted that better results were forthcoming from pediatric surgeons, who claimed to be more familiar with a child’s physiology and needs, so there was a wait-and-see approach. That mind-set in Houston did change due in part to Dr. Able’s efforts.

In 1956, Able instigated a two-year residency program for pediatric surgery, one of the few in the country at that time. The first resident to complete the program was Dr. Franklin J. “Jim” Harberg. Then in 1958, Dr. Benji Brooks, joined the team as not only the second practicing pediatric surgeon in Houston, but also the first and only female pediatric surgeon in Texas. The team of Able, Harberg and Brooks accomplished the almost unimaginable over the next decade from procedures ranging in complexity from simple inguinal hernias to complex neurosurgical problems, and allowed children who formerly would have been ruled as inoperable to undergo life-saving surgery. 

The hospital was a special place, even allowing parents to stay with their children at all times – unlike other northeastern hospitals that had strict visiting hours. In just ten years, the Texas Children’s Hospital Surgical Service was making a name for itself, locally, regionally and internationally. 

Texas Children’s garnered attention in the 1950s and 1960s due to the pioneering work of Dr. Denton A. Cooley, chief of cardiovascular surgery. Cooley’s development of a heart-lung machine in 1957 resulted in more than 550 cardiovascular procedures performed on infants and children under two years of age over a ten-year period. Later, in 1984, Dr. Cooley and the team performed the first successful infant heart transplant, in what would be the beginnings of Texas Children’s Hospital Transplant Services. 

In 1965, the Able, Harberg, Brooks team made headlines around the world by completing the first successful separation of twins who were conjoined at the liver and pericardium. The twins were the first to survive this type of operation and signaled the beginning of the era when both twins survived. In the late 1960s dramatic changes began as the hospital expanded, improved on the role of a pediatric general hospital, developed specialty programs and increased the demand for such services. 

The 1970s and 80s ushered in diversification and specialization with the development of the following surgical subspecialties:

1972 - Ophthalmology
1972 - Orthopedics
1973 - Otolaryngology  
1974 - Urology
1977 - Gynecology
1979 - Neurosurgery
1986 - Plastic Surgery  
1988 - Pediatric Anesthesiology

In the area of multidisciplinary surgical procedures, a unique opportunity was presented in 1992 when twins who were conjoined at the chest and abdomen were referred to Texas Children’s Hospital. As with the conjoined twins who had been separated by Able, Brooks, and Harberg nearly 30 years before, this operation garnered local, national and worldwide attention. 

The arrival of Dr. Charles D. Fraser, Jr in 1995 ushered in a new era of pediatric surgical care at Texas Children’s Hospital. Dr. Fraser was recruited to Texas Children’s Hospital to establish a dedicated pediatric congenital heart surgery program. During his tenure, the congenital heart surgery program has become one of the best and most experienced in the country and the world. Dr. Fraser also championed for creation of a team originally formed to track heart-related outcomes data. It is now The Texas Children’s Hospital Outcomes and Impact Service and measures surgical outcomes throughout the hospital. In 2010, Dr. Fraser was named surgeon-in-chief, and he continues today to lead the Department of Surgery to the next level.  


In 2015, the Department of Surgery completed more than 28,000 operating room cases and almost 150,000 outpatient visits.

In 2015, the Department of Surgery completed more than 28,000 operating room cases and almost 150,000 outpatient visits.

The Department of Surgery at Texas Children’s Hospital represents a dedicated team of pediatric-focused surgeons across nine surgical divisions. In conjunction with our partners in Anesthesiology, Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology, and Transplant Services, there are more than 100 surgeons who are Baylor College of Medicine faculty and more than 700 Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor employees focused on ensuring children get the surgical care they need.

The team’s tireless efforts are evident in the more than 28,000 operating room cases and almost 150,000 outpatient clinic visits in the past year.

About Our Services

Additional services, include: Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology, Anesthesiology, Transplant Services, Surgical Oncology

Mata Twins

When their lives were instantly changed by learning they were expecting conjoined twin daughters, Elysse and John Eric Mata traveled to Houston for the world-class care at Texas Children’s Hospital. The 10 months leading up to the girls’ separation presented a series of firsts for nearly everyone involved, as well as meticulous planning and preparation to help ensure a successful surgery and recovery. 

Follow the Mata Twins’ Journey

Audrina’s Story

At a routine 16-week ultrasound, baby Audrina was diagnosed with ectopia cordis – a rare condition where a baby’s heart is located either partially or totally outside the chest. The team at Texas Children’s provided Audrina with the life-saving care she needed before she was born, after she was born and as she continues to grow. 

Learn more about Baby Audrina