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Hugh Curran teaches courses in Peace and Reconciliation at the University of Maine.
Bernard Lown passed away last week in Boston at the age of 99. Much of his medical work had been done in Boston and it was to his address in Boston that I wrote more than 12 years ago to invite him to be a major speaker at a peace conference that our University of Maine Peace and Reconciliation was organizing. At the time, I had understood only that Dr. Lown had become a renowned physician following his graduation from the University of Maine. Curiously enough, I had attended numerous meetings over the years in the Lown Room at the Memorial Union but had never reflected on the significance of the name.
Although Lown’s response to my letter was cordial and apologetic, he had stated that his health did not permit him to be a speaker at the Peace Conference, but he expressed encouragement that the conference should go ahead and hoped it would be a great success. I was, of course, disappointed but appreciated his kind and generous response and still keep his letter on the wall above my desk.
For those unfamiliar with his background, Lown immigrated from Lithuania with his family to Lewiston at the age of 14 and graduated from Lewiston High School in 1938 before attending the University of Maine and after graduating went on to medical school at John Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Subsequently, throughout his medical career, Lown focused on the problem of sudden cardiac death and the role of psychological stress on the cardiovascular system. In 1961, Lown became convinced that sudden cardiac arrest was survivable and that people who were resuscitated could experience normal life. He worked with an electrical engineer to develop the defibrillator, which eventually became adopted throughout the world, and continues to save numerous lives.
Also in 1961, Lown assembled a group of physicians to address nuclear war issues concerning the Soviet Union and the U.S. and they called their organization Physicians for Social Responsibility.
They published “The Medical Consequences of Nuclear War” in 1962 in the New England Journals of Medicine, which helped to influence the passing of the Limited Test Ban Treaty in the U.S. Senate.
Despite all the calls upon his expertise, Lown helped to organize the Committee for Responsibility to Save War Burned and Injured Children. As a result, American hospitals began to treat injured Vietnamese children at no cost to them. After meeting with Lown and others, William F. Bundy, the assistant secretary of state at the time, agreed to help the committee and asked the Pentagon to transport Vietnamese children to the U.S. for needed treatment.
Lown was indefatigable in his efforts to save lives. He helped to form the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. He worked closely with Dr. Eugene Chazov, a Soviet cardiologist, a fact that Lown discussed in his memoir: “Prescription for Survival: A Doctor’s Journey to End Nuclear Madness.” By 1985, IPPNW represented 135,000 physicians in 60 countries and, as a result of their efforts Lown and Chazov were presented the Nobel Peace Prize.
Besides all the above, Lown founded in 1988 SatelLife, satellites circumnavigating the poles, and in 1997 ProCor, an internet network of health workers, both of which were intended to assist physicians to connect to helpful information on cardiovascular disease and prevention and the promotion of health equality around the world.
At the age of 91, in 2012, Lown’s efforts were crowned with the renaming of the Lown Cardiovascular Research as the Lown Institute, which addressed the crisis in health care and conducts clinical programs in “Right Care” and evaluates risk adjustment methods and patient outcomes.
Lown’s many awards include the Gandhi Peace Award and the Cardinal Medeiros Peace Award and in 1993 he was invited to address the Indira Gandhi Memorial Lecture in New Delhi. Returning home to Maine he was honored with the naming of the “Bernard Lown Peace Bridge” between Lewiston and Auburn, which was signed into law by Gov. John Baldacci in 2008.