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Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Six Who Matter: The Life Saver

This is part of our Nov/Dec 2007 issue. More specifically, this article is part of our 2007 Six Who Matter series.

He invented the internal defibrillator to save your heart. Now he invented the Jewish rehab facility to save your soul.

Last year, more than a million people in America suffered a heart attack. Nearly 40% of them died. If Dr. Mort Mower had his way, that percentage would be reduced to nothing.

That's because he has dedicated his life to saving yours. Back in 1969, while he was the chief of cardiology at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, he had the bright idea to shrink the life-saving defibrillator device so small that you could literally implant it into patients and push them out the door, knowing full well that if they went into cardiac arrest, their own personal internal defibrillator would shock them right back to life.

"All we needed to do was miniaturize it," he explains to me as if it's some small feat. "Remember, this was the age when NASA was inventing things. We were at the right time at the age of electronics." He's now a proud member of the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

I'm meeting Mower on a recent trip of his to Atlanta. Dressed in a dark suit and tie, his closely cropped hair is disheveled, giving him the aura of a man on a mission to save the world with little time for minutiae like combing. He's in town spreading the gospel of yet another invention of his: The country's first Jewish rehab facility. While most people who invented a life-saving device would probably pull a Scrooge McDuck and start swimming around their piles and piles of cash, Mower has chosen to use his millions productively by creating rehab facilities for Jews.

And we're not talking swanky celeb rehab for the likes of Britney or Lindsey. This is the real deal. About 10 years ago, Mower and his wife Tova, a nurse with a master's in psychology, opened the first Jewish Recovery House (known as the House of Hope) in their hometown of Baltimore where approximately 20 men reside at any given time in their effort to get over drug and alcohol addictions. A few years later, they created its female counterpart, The Tova House. These two campuses are attracting Jewish addicts from all over the country.

So why would anyone need a specifically Jewish rehab facility? "The addicts felt put off that they had to go to churches for their AA meetings," Mower explains. "It's a very self-destructive feeling. You're all alone. And it's taboo — Jews don't have addiction problems. They have nervous breakdowns."

The recovery process at the houses are based intensely on the famous 12-step program, but with a little dash of Judaism thrown in. For example, all residents are required to attend Friday night Shabbat dinners. And the houses have no shortage of success stories: Some previous clients are now back in college, reconnecting with their family, and one is even studying in a yeshiva. "The Jewish Recovery House provided me with shelter, three meals a day, the Judaism I had forgotten and the guidance, structure and camaraderie that is essential for recovery," says a recent graduate.

It's quotes like that that make it all worthwhile for Mower. "You walk," he says leaning forward in his chair, "and eventually they walk further."

Mower has gone from saving people physically to saving them emotionally as well. "Mort is a real nice human being who gives a damn," Kenneth Ball, the Jewish Recovery House's executive director, tells me. "He likes to see the good that it can do."

And Mower is showing no signs of slowing down. The father of two also sits on the boards of the Jewish National Fund, Hadassah, and Ben Gurion University. His philanthropic work has him stretched among a number of other foundations. In his spare time, he's an avid skier and enjoys offering unsolicited ski lessons. Giving me his business card, he jots down his direct number in case I ever want to take up the Slalom. And, he admits, "There's some question about whether I play golf or not."

As if that wasn't enough, he still works in a lab coming up with new inventions. His latest is top-secret, but he says it has something to do with his internal defibrilator. "It's a job," he says. "It keeps me off the streets at night." He's also working on getting Jewish Recovery Houses set up in other cities across America.

"Making money is easy," he says as he walks out the door. "What's meaningful is if you do something with it."

-- Text by Benyamin Cohen / Photo by Christopher T. Martin

This is part of our Nov/Dec 2007 issue. More specifically, this article is part of our 2007 Six Who Matter series.
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