Dr. Cooper Retires after 48 Years of Anesthesia Service
TUPELO, Miss.—After 48 years of administering anesthesia at North Mississippi Medical Center, Dr. James Cooper is putting his career to bed.
Dr. Cooper was born in Galen, Tenn., but moved to Lafayette, Tenn., as a young child. He graduated from Macon County High School there in 1955 and attended Tennessee Technical University in Cookeville. He transferred to Memphis State University in 1957, where he completed his bachelor’s degree in chemistry.
Torn between a career in medicine or a career in electronics and technology, he followed his father’s advice and earned his medical degree from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis in 1961. He completed an internship at St. Joseph Hospital in Memphis and began a residency in surgery there. During his second year, he rotated through anesthesiology and found his calling. He completed his anesthesia residency at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson in 1966.
During his residency, he visited NMMC and considered starting his career in Tupelo. “I liked the town, but there were no anesthesiologists here,” Dr. Cooper said. “I decided I didn’t really want 24/7 call.” He was invited to serve on the UMMC anesthesia faculty, so he taught for three years.
During that time, Dr. Read Jones, a general practitioner who had practiced in Saltillo, was completing an anesthesia residency at UMMC. They decided to practice together as Tupelo Anesthesia Group and became NMMC’s first anesthesiologists on Aug. 18, 1969.
“We brought our own equipment on the moving truck with all our other things,” Dr. Cooper said. “We moved it in at the hospital on Sunday before we started work on Monday.”
At that time, NMMC averaged 10-15 surgeries each day. Today, 40-50 cases are performed daily at the main hospital alone, not counting Women’s Hospital and the Ambulatory Surgery Center. Dr. Homer Horton joined their anesthesia team the following year, followed closely by Dr. Bob Wilson.
“We had four operating rooms and a cystology room,” Dr. Cooper said. “Now we cover about 38 rooms.” Covering cases now are 14 anesthesiologists and 54 certified registered nurse anesthetists.
Surgeries have increased in complexity with the rise in technology. “We had one EKG machine in the OR when we started—no pulse oximetry or gas analysis. We could palpate the temporal pulse and use a manual blood pressure cuff,” he said. “Technology has greatly improved our monitoring ability, which allows us to treat much sicker patients and perform more elaborate cases.”
Also different is the ability to monitor patients remotely. “Now I can pull up any vital signs that are on a monitor on my iPad,” he said.
Dr. Cooper was fortunate to find a career that marries both his interests—medicine and technology. “When I started, there was no Biomed Department,” he said. “If a cable broke, I’d take it home and fix it.” In fact, when NMMC hired its first Biomed tech, Dr. Cooper loaned his personal equipment until the department purchased its own.
Through the years, Dr. Cooper has been very involved on various committees, serving on both the NMMC and North Mississippi Health Services Board of Directors, including a stint as vice chairman. He also served as chairman of the medical staff. In 1999 the Health Care Foundation of North Mississippi recognized him with the first P.K. Thomas Jr., M.D. Service Award. He also served many years on the board of Medical Assurance Company of Mississippi and as president of the Mississippi Society of Anesthesiologists.
Now that he’s retired, Dr. Cooper will once again have time to tinker with electronics and perhaps pick up fishing again—made more convenient by his move to Nita Lake in Fulton six years ago. He and his wife Sandra have been married since 1971 and admit that their German Shepherd, Willow, actually runs the house.