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Morton Mower, co-inventor of implantable defibrillator, dead at 89

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Dr. Morton Mower, a former Maryland cardiologist who helped invent an automatic implantable cardioverter defibrillator that helped countless heart patients live longer, healthier lives, has died at 89.

The funeral was held Wednesday for Mower, who died of cancer two days earlier at Porter Adventist Hospital in Denver, the Baltimore Sun reported. The Maryland native had moved to Colorado about a decade ago.

Mower and Dr. Michel Mirowski, both colleagues at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, began work in 1969 on developing a miniature defibrillator that could be implanted into a patient. The device would correct a patient’s too-rapid or inefficient heartbeat with an electric shock to return to its regular rhythm.

“It was the talk of the whole hospital that these two crazy people are going to install an automatic defibrillator,” Mower said in a 2015 interview with the medical journal The Lancet. “If something had gone wrong, we would never have experienced it. We were these two crazy guys who wanted to put a ticking time bomb in people’s chests, so to speak.

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The doctors had, in a few months, a model of automatic implantable defibrillator for demonstration. But it wasn’t until 1980 that the device was implanted in a human at Johns Hopkins Hospital, the newspaper reported.

The United States Food and Drug Administration approved the device in 1985. The two doctors shared the patent for the device, the technology of which was sold to pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly. Mower then became director of medical research for the Eli Lilly division that produced the implantable cardioverter defibrillator, according to the newspaper.

“I think Morty was as influential as anyone in our profession in finding a cure for sudden death,” said Dr. David Cannom, a retired Los Angeles cardiologist and longtime friend.

The device “proved to be better than drugs at treating arrhythmia, and they did it against the odds in a small hospital in Baltimore,” Cannom added. “And for 40 years, it has proven itself to be reliable” while saving many lives.

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Mower, a Baltimore native who grew up in Frederick, attended Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland Medical School. He worked in Baltimore hospitals and served in the military before beginning his professional career at Sinai in 1966 as a co-investigator of its Coronary Drug Project. He served as Chief or Acting Chief of Cardiology at the hospital for several years in the 1970s and 1980s. Sinai Hospital named a medical office building for him in 2005.

Later in his career, he served as a consultant or executive for several medical companies.

“He continued his research and worked until his death,” his son, Mark Mower, of Beverly Hills, Calif., wrote in an email to the newspaper. “He never wanted to waste a moment of his life.”

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Mower has received numerous awards, including a 2002 induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. He was also involved in many Jewish charities. One group, the Jewish National Fund-USA, praised him for his fundraising efforts for water infrastructure, education and community centers in Israel. Mower and his 57-year-old wife, Toby, had visited Israel weeks before his death.

“As a medical inventor, his innovations have revived the hearts of millions, but he has also set the hearts of an entire nation beating – the land and people of Israel,” said Russell F. Robinson, CEO of the Jewish National Fund-USA, in a press release.

In addition to his wife and son, Mower is survived by his daughter, Robin Sara Mower of Denver; and three grandchildren.

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