If not through renaming a bridge, Dr. Bernard Lown deserves commemoration somewhere within the community that launched the young Lewiston High School graduate toward great academic success, groundbreaking contributions to medicine and the Nobel Prize.

Auburn city councilors have rejected an effort to rename the bridge between New Auburn and Little Canada for Lown, a celebrated cardiologist and cardiology professor at Harvard University, a key player in the development of the heart defibrillator, and medical diplomat and scientific trailblazer.

His contributions to the world have earned him international accolades. One would think the region that reared him would see fit to honor him as well. It almost did, but was stymied by provincial thinking by a handful of elected officials in Auburn.

“We need to see more of what people in Lewiston-Auburn have done for Lewiston-Auburn and Maine, specifically, not just the world,” said Councilor Bruce Bickford. While every hometown has its heroes, not every region can tout someone as renowned as Dr. Lown.

In Massachusetts, Lown’s name adorns cardiovascular research organizations. His theories on the humanitarian ideals for medicine are an inspiration. Despite his myriad advancements in cardiology, Lown’s “most revolutionary contribution…may be his insistence that the patient – not the disease – must be the focus of every practitioner’s attention,” the Lown Cardiovascular Research Organization states on its Web site.

Instead of bypassing Lown for benefiting all mankind, the cities should shout his name from its rooftops. Lewiston-Auburn is home to many heroic veterans, politicians and community leaders that all deserve some form of recognition. Nobel Prize winners, however, are much more rare.

Which makes recognizing Lown, who received the peace prize more than 20 years ago, an overdue priority.

For although he’s taken his talents outside the community, it’s impossible to argue he hasn’t benefited Lewiston-Auburn. His work to bring about the heart defibrillator alone – Lown was first to use direct electric current to stabilize heart activity – is now standard procedure for treating cardiac patients.

The presence of a world-class cardiology center in our community, the Central Maine Heart and Vascular Institute, is testament to the successful treatments of heart ailments pioneered by Lown.

Debate about renaming the South Bridge for Lown has unearthed good points: What are the criteria for commemorating structures such as bridges, and who else deserves consideration? An ad hoc committee comprised of residents representing both riverbanks should easily answer these questions.

In the meantime, the cities should plan for some acknowledgment for Lown. He deserves more than a bridge for his contributions to mankind. Some might say he deserves a statue.

We’ll settle for something significant. Soon.


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