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  • ID: I528886
  • Name: William Bennett KOUWENHOVEN , Am. Inventor
  • Sex: M
  • ALIA: Dr. William Bennett /Kouwenhoven/, Am. Inventor
  • Birth: 13 JAN 1886 in Brooklyn, Kings Co., Long Island, NY
  • Death: 10 NOV 1975 in Baltimore, Baltimore Co., MD
  • Note:
    William Bennett Kouwenhoven
    b. January 13, 1886, Brooklyn, NY, U.S.A.
    d. November 10, 1975, Baltimore, U.S.A
    from: the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. Webpage, Copyright 2008 IEEE, @

    William Bennett Kouwenhoven was a pioneer in understanding electricity and the heart. He was best known for his contributions to medicine. Dr. Kouwenhoven's major contribution to medical research was his development of nonsurgical methods of activating a heart that stops beating. His research in electric shock and his study of the effects of electricity on the heart led to development of the closed chest electrical defibrillator and the technique of external cardiac massage.
    William Bennett Kouwenhoven, a descendent of early Dutch settlers, was born on 13 January 1886 in Brooklyn, Kings Co., Long Island, NY. He received his engineering degrees (B.E. in 1906 and M.E. in 1907), both from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, and his doctoral degree in electrical engineering in 1913 from Karlsruhe Technische Hochscule in Baden, Germany.
    He joined the faculty of the Johns Hopkins University School of Engineering in 1914. The pipe-smoking, contemplative professor was a brilliant choice: Kouwenhoven and his medical colleagues tirelessly revolutionized cardiovascular resuscitation, all the while proving just how much a wildly disparate interdisciplinary team can do.
    His engineer's experiments began with rats. Along with Hopkins neurologist Orthello Langworthy, M.D., Kouwenhoven observed the effects of DC and AC shocks on the heart. In humans, they noted that low-voltage shocks cause ventricular fibrillation (VF); higher-voltage shocks cause the lungs to shut down completely. By 1933, they had stumbled across an amazing finding: By administering still another surge of electricity, called a countershock, they were able to restore sinus rhythm and normal contraction, making a dog's fibrillating heart beat normally again - a process called defibrillation. Confirming the results of an all-but-forgotten paper that had appeared in an 1889 medical journal, Kouwenhoven's team stirred scientists elsewhere, including those at Case Western Reserve, who used the technique on patients who had slipped into VF during surgery. In 1947, Case Western's Claude Beck, a 1921 graduate of the School of Medicine, was the first to place electrodes directly on the heart of a patient suffering VF during surgery.
    At Hopkins, Kouwenhoven's studies inspired Division of Anesthesiology researchers James Elam and Peter Safir, who would go on in the 1940s to perfect the emergency mouth-to-mouth method of lung ventilation, crucial for oxygenating the blood when the heart stops. But it would take a well-rounded team of investigators, including Kouwenhoven, James Jude, M.D., a protege of cardiovascular surgeon Alfred Blalock, M.D., G. Guy Knickerbocker, a young engineer, and the cardiovascular physiologist William Milnor, M.D., to develop the life-jolting machine that eventually would save the lives of thousands of people.
    Kouwenhoven and Milnor began working on a closed-chest defibrillator in 1950, testing various electrical currents, pulses and electrodes to find the ideal combination that would jar the heart back to normal cadence. Chief of surgery Alfred Blalock was at first skeptical of the work, but he agreed to provide laboratory space and support services for Kouwenhoven's growing team. The investigators watched the effect of electrodes on opposite sides of the chest, noting that a brief AC current of 20 amperes would jolt the erratically beating heart back into rhythm. Then, another surgeon, Samuel Talbot, who was studying heart arrhythmias in dogs, asked the team to incorporate their defibrillator experiments with his research. To their surprise, Kouwenhoven and Milnor found that the current actually flowed best vertically instead of horizontally through a dog's heart, and they were able to reduce the intensity of the shock by 50 percent. After hundreds of laboratory tests, they developed a prototype machine to do the job on humans.
    The 200-pound defibrillator The novel contraption was unwieldy - a hefty 200 pounds mounted on a wheeled cart - and delivered AC current via two main electrodes, one placed over the suprasternal notch, the other over the apex of the heart. During the initial experiments on dogs, Knickerbocker noticed a small rise in blood pressure when the electrodes were pressed into position even before any current passed through them. Was it possible, he speculated, that pressing rhythmically on the chest could cause the blood to circulate? From that observation, Knickerbocker and Kouwenhoven led the way to the team's third major discovery: cardiac massage, the technique that would become key to cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
    Finally, in 1957, for the first time, the defibrillator saved the life of a patient suffering VF in a Hopkins operating room. Three years later came the event that would set the course for the principal use of the remarkable machine. A patient arrived in the emergency room at 2 a.m. complaining of indigestion, and in the midst of undressing for his exam, suddenly collapsed with ventricular fibrillation. The admitting resident, Gottleib Friesinger, M.D., was familiar with the promising device located in a laboratory on the Hospital's 11th floor. He had even assisted in some of the research. As the intern on call thumped the patient's chest, Friesinger rushed to the laboratory, persuaded a security officer to let him in and then wheeled the contraption to the emergency room. On the second shock, Friesinger revived the dying 42-year-old patient. The man had suffered an anterior myocardial infarction and lived for 18 more years. It was the world's first emergency defibrillation for cardiac arrest. "He was quite a dramatic Saturday morning Grand Rounds presentation," Friesinger recalls.
    With this success, electric companies urged further experiments, encouraging the development of a closed-chest defibrillator that would be portable and also inexpensive. The innovative Kouwenhoven went on to develop that smaller model - svelte in comparison at only 45 pounds, 20 inches long, 15 inches high and seven and a half inches wide, and workable either by a small battery or AC current.
    In addition to that, he founded closed-chest cardiac massage, now known as CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation, which includes massaging the lungs as well as the heart), which is used to sustain a heart-beat after cardiac arrest by using only the hands. In part through grants from the Edison Electrical Institute, various power companies, and the National Heart Institute, Kouwenhoven investigated the health effects of high voltages on installers of power lines across the country. He studied autopsy reports for every case of death by electrocution in the country and was a leader in establishing electrical safety standards.
    Dr. Kouwenhoven was serving as dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Engineering from 1938 until 1954. After Kouwenhoven retired in 1954, he became professor emeritus and he was given use of a laboratory in the medical school, from where he made some of his most impressive advancements. Dr. Kouwenhoven became a lecturer in surgery in the university's medical school in 1956.
    Dr. William Bennett Kouwenhoven received many awards for his tremendous trio of contributions - confirmation of the effects of countershock, the refinement of open- and closed-chest defibrillators, and the development of external cardiac massage. Kouwenhoven was an IEEE Fellow, recipient of the Edison Medal in 1961 "For his inspiring leadership in education, for his contributions in the fields of electrical insulation, electrical measurements, and electrical science applied to medicine, and especially for his investigations of the effects of electricity on the human body with the successful development of countershock for the cure of fibrillation of the heart", and the Power Life Award, and prolific author of technical publications. He was also recipient of the Albert Lasker Medical Research Award, one of the medical profession's highest honors. Dr. Kouwenhoven was the first, and one of only two people ever, to be awarded in 1969 an honorary doctor of medicine degree from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
    William Bennett Kouwenhoven died on 10 November 1975, in Baltimore, 89 years old. He was survived by his wife, the former Abigail Baxter Remsen, a son, William, and two grandchildren.

    Father: Teunis Garret Bergen KOUWENHOVEN b: 13 SEP 1854
    Mother: Phebe Florence BENNETT b: 27 SEP 1860

    Marriage 1 Abigail Baxter REMSEN b: 14 FEB 1889 in Brooklyn, Kings Co., Long Island, NY
    • Married: 22 JUN 1910
    1. Has No Children Living KOUWENHOVEN
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