Dr. Morton Mower, inventor of life-saving heart device, dies at 89

Morton Mower, an enterprising cardiologist who helped invent an implantable defibrillator that has saved many lives by returning potentially fatal irregular heart rhythms to normal with an electrical shock, died April 25 in Denver. He was 89.

His son, Mark, said the cause was cancer.

Dr. Mower and Dr. Michel Mirowski, a colleague at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, began work in 1969 on a device that would be small enough to be implanted under the skin of the abdomen and quickly correct heart rhythms when touched. they become dangerous. distorted.

Dr. Mirowski had the idea of ​​miniaturizing a defibrillator; Dr. Mower, who had learned electrical engineering in his basement workshop, believed it could be done.

“We were the crazy ones who wanted to put a time bomb in people’s chests,” Dr. Mower said in a 2015 interview with The Lancet medical journal, which noted at the time that two million people worldwide they had received the implant. device.

The doctors quickly developed a prototype and formed a partnership in 1972 with Medrad, a manufacturer of medical equipment. But the development of an implantable defibrillator had its critics.

Writing in Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association, Dr. Bernard Lown, who invented the first effective external defibrillator, and Dr. Paul Axelrod said that patients with ventricular fibrillation were best served with surgery or an antiarrhythmic program.

“In fact,” they said, “the implanted defibrillator system represents an imperfect solution in search of a plausible and practical application.”

The work continued. After testing on animals, the battery-powered device, about the size of a deck of cards, was first implanted in humans at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1980. Five years later, it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Medicines.

At the time, the FDA said the implantable defibrillator could save 10,000 to 20,000 lives a year by allowing people to correct their arrhythmia quickly instead of waiting to get to hospital emergency rooms, where external defibrillators with their shovels.

Dr. Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, president of the American Heart Association, said in a telephone interview that 300,000 devices, now as small as a silver dollar, are implanted annually.

“Allowing people to walk around with a defibrillator, instead of being in a hospital under constant care, was really revolutionary in saving the lives of people at risk of fatal heart attacks,” said Dr. Lloyd-Jones.

He added that another advantage of the device, formally known as an automatic implantable cardioverter-defibrillator, was that its electrical shock is delivered directly to the heart. The shock from the external defibrillator must travel from its paddles through skin and tissue before reaching the heart.

Dr. Mower and Dr. Mirowski were inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame in 2002, along with Alois Langer, a project engineer at Medrad, and M. Stephen Heilman, the company’s founder.

Morton Maimon Mower was born on January 31, 1933, in Baltimore and grew up in Frederick, about 50 miles to the west. His father, Robert, was a shoemaker, and his mother, Pauline (Maimon) Mower, was a homemaker.

As a young man, Morton worked summers for his Uncle Sam, who owned bathhouses and a toy store in Atlantic City. When his uncle became ill, Morton was impressed by the way the family treated the doctor during his home visits.

“They made him sit down; they made him have a cup of tea,” Dr. Mower told the alumni magazine of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, from which he graduated in 1959, in an interview. “I thought, Wow, that’s not bad. That is what I would like to do.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins University in 1955, where he was in the pre-med program, and graduating from medical school, Dr. Mower completed an internship at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

He became chief resident at Sinai Hospital in 1962 and then served in the Army Medical Corps from 1963 to 1965 in Bremerhaven, Germany, where he was chief of medicine.

In 1966, he began a six-year stint as a researcher on the Sinai Coronary Drug Project. He eventually became an attending physician and head of cardiology at the hospital. A building was named after him on his campus in 2005.

Dr. Mower became wealthy from licensing the defibrillator technology and used his money to build a large art collection that included works by Rembrandt, Picasso, and Impressionist masters.

After leaving Sinai in 1989, he worked for two defibrillator manufacturers: Cardiac Pacemakers, an Eli Lilly subsidiary, as a vice president, and Guidant, as a consultant. He later taught medicine at Johns Hopkins and, more recently, at the University of Colorado at Aurora School of Medicine.

Dr. Mower recently created a company, Rocky Mountain Biphasic, to find commercial uses for his many patents in areas including cardiology, wound healing, diabetes, and Covid-19.

In addition to his son, he is survived by his wife, Toby (Kurland) Mower, a registered nurse; a daughter, Robin Mower; three grandchildren; a brother, Bernardo; and a sister, Susan Burke. He lived in Denver.

Dr. Mower’s work to restore heart rhythms did not end with the implantable defibrillator.

“I realized it was incomplete therapy,” he told The Lancet, referring to the defibrillator. “It prevented right ventricular afibrillation, but did nothing to support left ventricular function. People kept dying of congestive heart failure.”

He and Dr. Mirowski invented cardiac resynchronization therapy, or CRT, which uses an implantable device much like a pacemaker to send electrical impulses to the heart’s right and left ventricles to force them to contract more efficiently. organized pattern.

“CRT was as big an advance as implantable defibrillators,” Dr. Mower said, adding that when he started testing the treatment on patients in the Netherlands, “it was almost unbelievable how patients would come out of heart failure.”

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