A l u m n i  P r o f i l e

Morton M. Mower, '59
An Inquiring Mind
   for the Beating Heart

Dr. Morton M. Mower could never be accused of being idle. Since graduating from the medical school in 1959, he has received 26 patents, including one for a special ski boot designed to help skiers carve sharp turns in the snow. He has run two companies, one which took an inexpensive computer and developed it so it could perform complicated tasks far cheaper than powerful mainframe computers. And he has immersed himself in study of the human heart. In fact, Dr. Mower, 68, is credited with developing the implantable automatic defibrillator—a device that detects when a heart beats too rapidly or inefficiently and delivers a shock to make it beat with a normal rhythm.

“You always have to investigate something,” says Dr. Mower, who this year is the recipient of the Medical Alumni Association’s Honor Award & Gold Key. “You can’t just sit around and do nothing.”

Dr. Mower didn’t grow up in a medical family. A native of Frederick, Md., his father repaired shoes, and his mother raised three children. He spent summers in Atlantic City, where he worked at his uncle Sam’s salt water bath houses, and later as a salesman at his uncle’s toy store on the Boardwalk.

Sometimes Uncle Sam got sick, which required a visit from a physician. The housecalls left an impression on Dr. Mower who was then about 15 years old. “The family treated him (the doctor) like a king,” Dr. Mower recalls. “They made him sit down; they made him have a cup of tea. I thought, ‘Gee, that’s not bad. That’s what I would like to do. It would be nice to be treated that way.’”

Dr. Mower enrolled in pre-med at Johns Hopkins University and graduated in 1955. Four years later, he graduated from Maryland’s medical school. After completing a rotating internship at Maryland, Dr. Mower served his residency and then accepted a fellowship at Baltimore’s Sinai Hospital in 1965, launching his career as a cardiologist. A year later, he was co-investigator of the coronary drug project. “I admired the specialty like I admired neurology; both were sort of precise things,” Dr. Mower says.

Sinai Hospital was building a coronary care unit, one of the first in the state, and Dr. Mower actively participated since he had the reputation of being a person who you went to if you wanted to get something done. In 1969, he teamed up with Dr. Michel Mirowski, a physician from Israel, who wanted to build an implantable heart defibrillator. The two spent a couple of months fabricating circuits for the device. Then, they spent several years designing the defibrillator; so it was suitable for implantation.

It wasn’t until 1980 that the apparatus was implanted into a human being. In 1985, the Food and Drug Administration approved the defibrillator, and drug maker Eli Lilly and Co., which refined the device, marketed it. “This has revolutionized cardiology and more specifically electrophysiology,” says Dr. Mower, who two years later was named chief of cardiology at Sinai Hospital.

At an age when most people retire to the golf course or fishing hole, Dr. Mower continues to pick and probe for answers to problems of the heart. He is chairman and chief executive officer of Mower Research Associates in Baltimore, which is experimenting with pacemakers and how they might be used to treat atrial fibrillation.

There is a simple reason why Dr. Mower keeps investigating answers to questions. “Because it is fun,” he says. “If you are not happy doing what you are doing, you are doing the wrong thing.”

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