Bernard Lown (1921–2021)
American doctor of Lithuanian Jewish origin, cardiologist, inventor of the defibrillator, Nobel Peace Prize laureate
Bernard Lown (birth name Boruch Lac) was born on 7 June 1921 in Utena. His parents were Nison and Bela Lac. One of his grandfathers was a rabbi. He lived and attended school in Utena until he was 14, and then emigrated with his family to the USA in 1935.
In 1945, he earned the MD degree from Johns Hopkins University. In 1946, he married Louise Lown, and together they had three children: Anne, Fredric and Naomi.
In 1962, Dr Lown co-invented the direct current defibrillator, a device to restore a normal heartbeat, resuscitating patients from cardiac death. The device helped make open-heart surgery possible.
In 1980, he co-founded the group International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) in Geneva (Switzerland), uniting 150,000 doctors from 40 countries. The organisation won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. The Norwegian Nobel Committee’s citation explained that “this organisation has performed a considerable service to mankind by spreading authoritative information and by creating an awareness of the catastrophic consequences of atomic warfare”.
Bernard Lown was a co-founder and head of Physicians for Social Responsibility (1961–1973) as well as an active participant in the Committee of Responsibility for War Injured Vietnamese Children (COR). The Lown Cardiovascular Research Foundation was founded in 1973, and continues to operate today in Brookline (Massachusetts, USA) as the Lown Institute.
Dr Lown authored or co-authored more than 400 articles in scientific publications, and received the Gandhi Peace Award, awards from the American Heart Association and UNESCO, and others.
After going to the USA in 1935, Bernard Lown visited Lithuania twice during the Soviet occupation, in 1969 and 1973. On both trips, he and his wife visited Utena, and during the 1969 trip he delivered a lecture at the Kaunas Institute of Medicine (the present-day Lithuanian University of Health Sciences).
In 2002, Bernard Lown was awarded the Cross of Commander of the Order of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas. In 2018, he was made an honorary citizen of Utena, his birthplace.
Bernard Lown died in Massachusetts in 2021, on 16 February, a day meaningful to Lithuania. He would have turned 100 on 7 June of that year.