Dr. Bernard Lown, creator of 1st effective heart defibrillator, dies at 99

Bernard Lown, MD, a renowned cardiologist who played a pivotal role in the development of the first reliable heart defibrillator, died Feb. 16, The New York Times reports. He was 99. 

In 1962, Dr. Lown invented the Lown Device, a defibrillator that used direct-current electrical shocks to restore normal heartbeats. By 1964, it was in use at thousands of hospitals. He is responsible for the now widely accepted medical recommendation that congestive heart failure patients recover in an armchair as opposed to a bed to prevent fluids from building in the chest cavity. 

In 1961, he established Physicians for Social Responsibility, and in 1985, a group Dr. Lown co-founded, the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, received the Nobel Peace Prize. The group spoke out against the arms race, with more than 200,000 members spanning 60 countries at its peak, The Baltimore Sun reports. 

"Bernard Lown was one of the greatest physicians of the last, or any century, and I was privileged to call him my teacher, colleague and friend," said Vikas Saini, MD, president of the Lown Institute, a nonpartisan think tank that advocates for civic leadership and accountability in healthcare founded by Dr. Lown in 1973. "He showed us what it meant to be a healer and a citizen of the world. His commitment to social justice and a radically better healthcare system illuminated his belief that medicine must exist beyond the clinic to be true to its highest calling." 

Dr. Lown was a longtime professor at Boston-based Harvard Medical School and physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital. He was born in Lithuania in 1921 and emigrated to Maine in 1935. In 1945, Dr. Lown graduated with his medical degree from Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University. 

Throughout his career, Dr. Lown wrote several books and published more than 400 research articles in medical journals.

He died of congestive heart failure complications and is survived by three children, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild. 

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