Dr. Morton M. Mower, a pioneering cardiologist and former Sinai Hospital staff member who was co-inventor of the automatic implantable cardioverter defibrillator, died of cancer Monday at Porter Adventist Hospital in Denver. The former Guilford resident was 89.
“I think Morty had as much influence successfully finding a treatment for sudden death as anyone in our profession,” said Dr. David S. Cannom, a retired Los Angeles cardiologist and longtime friend. “I think he was the most brilliant person I’ve ever met.”
The defibrillator device developed by Dr. Mower and Dr. Michel Mirowski, “proved that it was better than medication in treating arrhythmia, and they did this against all odds at a small hospital in Baltimore,” Dr. Cannom added. “And for the past 40 years, it has proven that its reliable ... and has saved hundreds of thousand patients’ lives.”
Morton Maimon Mower, son of Robert Mower, a cobbler, and Pauline Mower, a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised in Frederick, where he graduated in 1951 from Frederick High School.
Dr. Mower was 15 years old when he made the decision to pursue a medical career. The family physician made frequent house calls to his home to treat Dr. Mower’s ill uncle, and the medical visits made a lasting impression on the teenager.
“The family treated [the doctor] like a king,” Dr. Mower said in an alumni magazine interview. “They made him sit down. They made him have a cup of tea. I thought, ‘Gee, that’s not bad. That’s what I’d like to do. It would be nice to be treated that way.’”
In 1955, he graduated from the premedical program at the Johns Hopkins University’s Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, and earned his medical degree in 1959 from the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
From 1959 to 1960, he completed a rotating internship at what is now the University of Maryland Medical Center and was an assistant resident at Sinai Hospital from 1960 to 1962. He was a chief resident, also at Sinai, from 1962 to 1963.
Dr. Mower served in the Army Medical Corps in Bremerhaven, Germany, where he was chief of medicine from 1963 to 1965, and attained the rank of captain.
After being discharged from the Army, he returned to Baltimore and completed a fellowship in cardiology and became board certified in internal medicine and cardiology.
Dr. Mower began his professional career at Sinai in 1966 as a co-investigator of its Coronary Drug Project, a position he held for six years. From 1972 to 1975, he was a consultant in electrocardiography at the old North Charles General Hospital in Charles Village, and an attending physician at Good Samaritan Hospital during the same span.
He held multiple positions at Sinai, including stints as secretary-treasurer, vice president and president of the medical staff. He was director of Sinai’s Heart Station from 1971 to 1987, and from 1965 to 1972, was a research associate in the cardiopulmonary laboratory.
Dr. Mower was acting chief of cardiology at the hospital from 1977 to 1982 and was chief of cardiology from 1987 to 1989.
In 1969, Dr. Mower began working with Dr. Michel Mirowski, a Polish-born Israeli physician and a Sinai colleague, who had the idea to miniaturize a defibrillator that could be implanted in a patient. The device’s mission was to detect when a patient’s heart beat too rapidly or inefficiently and correct it with an electric shock so it resumes its regular rhythm.
“I couldn’t think of any good reason why it couldn’t be done,” Dr. Mower explained in a 2015 interview with The Lancet Journal.
In a 1976 Sun article, the newspaper hailed the development of the device “that could turn out to be a major breakthrough in saving the lives of the most helpless of all heart disease victims — the victims of massive heart fluttering, termed ‘sudden death.’”
Within a matter of months, the two men had a demonstration device ready to show to medical device companies. Pittsburgh manifacturer Medrad accepted the project, but had “vastly underestimated,” The Lancet Journal observed, the difficulty in moving from animal models to humans, and it took another decade until the device was implanted into a human being in 1980 at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
“It was the talk of the whole hospital that these two crazy guys are going to put in an automatic defibrillator,” Dr. Mower said in the interview. “If something had gone awry, we would have never lived it down. We were these two crazy guys who wanted to put a time bomb in people’s chests, so to speak.”
The device was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1985, and further refined in studies with assistance from the National Institutes of Health in 1989. Both men shared the patent for the device, and Dr. Mower holds 25 other patents in his own right.
The two doctors worked as paid consultants to Medrad, who in 1986 sold the technology to pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly. In 1989, Dr. Mower left Sinai and became director of medical research for the Eli Lilly division that produced the implantable cardioverter defibrillator, or ICD.
He later left Lilly and became vice president of medical sciences for Cardiac Pacemakers Inc. in St. Paul, Minnesota, and in 1995, became senior consultant at Guidant Corp. ― CPI Division in Indianapolis. From 1996 to 2003, he was chairman and CEO of Mower Research Associates in Baltimore, and from 2001 to 2010, was a consultant to Biomerix Inc. in New York City.
“He continued his research and worked up until his death,” wrote his son, Mark Mower, of Beverly Hills, California, in an email. “He never wanted to waste a moment of his life. Recently, he formed Rocky Mountain Biphasic, a biomedical company, to exploit a portfolio of his newest scientific patents. His newest research has applications in diabetes, wound healing, COVID, cardiology and more. Mort’s legacy and ground breaking science will continue.”
Dr. Mower also held academic roles as professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, professor of physiology and biophysics at Howard University College of Medicine, and distinguished professor of medicine at the University of Colorado-Denver.
His work brought him many awards and honors including: the Space Technology Hall of Fame Recognition Award; the Michel Mirowski Award of Excellence in the field of clinical cardiology and electrophysiology; the Medical Alley Award for outstanding contribution in research and development; the President’s Award of Heart Rhythm Society; the University of Maryland School of Medicine Alumni Association Honor Award and the Gold Key Award for outstanding contributions to medicine and mankind.
Dr. Mower was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2002, and in 2015, received the Prince Mahidol Award in medicine.
In 2005, Sinai renamed Sinai Medical Office Building on its Northwest Baltimore campus after Dr. Mower.
He and his wife were founders of Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah in Baltimore and were active members when living in Baltimore of Beth Am Synagogue.
Dr. Mower had been a member of the board of Jewish Recovery Houses; House of Hope, a faith-based recovery house for Jewish men; and with his wife, of Tova House, a recovery house for Jewish women.
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He also had served on the boards of Jewish National Fund — USA, Hadassah and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheva, Israel.
“I was always attracted to his wonderful smile,” Dr. Cannom said. “He was very funny and always made jokes about himself. I just thought he was terrific and his life is a wonderful story. He could do what no one else could do.”
When he and his wife of 57 years, the former Tobia “Toby” Kurlander, a registered nurse, lived in Baltimore, they resided at the Warrenton Condominium in Guilford.
Dr. Mower, who moved to Denver 11 years ago, was an inveterate art collector and his collection held works by Renoir, Matisse, Cassatt, Picasso, Rembrandt, Degas, Monet, Pissarro, Berthe, Lichtenstein, Haring, Rodin and Warhol, among others, family members said.
He also enjoyed skiing, dancing and travel.
Services were held Wednesday at BMH-BJ in Denver.
In addition to his wife and son, Dr. Mower is survived by a daughter, Sobin Sara Mower of Denver; a brother, Bernard Mower of Los Angeles; a sister, Susan Burke of Los Angeles; and three grandchildren.