Dr. Morton Mower, Jewish co-inventor of a revolutionary defibrillator, dies at 89

Mower began development in 1969 on a pint-sized defibrillator that could be surgically implanted underneath the abdomen to allow for quicker, more precise electric jolts.

Defibrillator (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Defibrillator
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The implantable defibrillator, a small device that can be installed under a patient’s skin and immediately send a shock to correct any irregular heart rhythms, is today implanted in more than 300,000 people every year.

Dr. Morton Mower, a Jewish cardiologist and renowned inventor who died April 25 in Denver of cancer at the age of 89, was one of the device’s two inventors. His contributions to medical science were rivaled only by his devotion to the Jewish National Fund, to which he and his wife, Dr. Tobia Mower, were significant donors.

Along with his Jewish co-inventor, Dr. Michel Mirowski, Mower began development in 1969 on a pint-sized defibrillator that could be surgically implanted underneath the abdomen to allow for quicker, more precise electric jolts. He taught himself electrical engineering in his basement in order to created prototypes for the instrument, which the pair believed could be a significant improvement on the over-the-skin defibrillator.

Man having cardiac arrest (credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)Man having cardiac arrest (credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)

The Baltimore-born Mower would later joke that the two had essentially invented “a time bomb in people’s chests.” But after it was first implanted into humans in 1980, and approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1985, the device — now commonly placed in the upper chest — became a revolutionary tool for cardiologists. The duo followed up that hit by inventing cardiac resynchronization therapy, an electric device that sends jolts to the left and right ventricles of the heart simultaneously in order to get them to beat in a more organized pattern.

Mower would later be inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame and receive the Space Technology Hall of Fame Recognition Award, and made an immense profit by licensing the defibrillator technology. The JNF was a major beneficiary of his largesse, and he served as a member of its World Chairman’s Council. The Mowers supported JNF’s Jerusalem affiliate, Nefesh B’Nefesh, where the Toby and Mort Mower Pavilion was created.

“Dr. Mower was one half of a philanthropic powerhouse couple,” said JNF CEO Russell Robinson. “The life of every single Israeli has been made richer because of them.”

Mower also served in the Army Medical Corps in Germany from 1963-65. The Mowers moved from Baltimore to Denver in 2011, and also owned residences in the Colorado resort towns of Breckenridge and Beaver Creek.

Mower is survived by his wife Toby; children Dr. Robin Mower and Mark (Kathleen) Mower; and three grandchildren.

A version of this obituary originally ran in the Intermountain Jewish News, and is reprinted with permission.