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A Soviet Doctor and a Boston Cardiologist Celebrate Their Group's Nobel Peace Prize

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History may forget their first meeting—the two cardiologists bumped into each other in an elevator in New Delhi in 1960—but Bernard Lown’s and Yevgeny Chazov’s bold steps in the annals of the world peace movement surely won’t be forgotten. Now they are co-presidents of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), and their organization has been awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

Lown, 64, and Chazov, 56, are unlikely allies. The latter is the “Kremlin doctor,” personal physician to three Soviet leaders—Brezhnev, Andropov and Chernenko—and now presumably to Mikhail Gorbachev. Lown, a Jew who fled Lithuania at 14, is a Boston-based expert in cardiac arrest who, says one associate, “always marched to a slightly different drummer.” Together the men have, in five years, helped spur the worldwide disarmament movement.

The IPPNW, after opening shop with no staff and scant funding in a Boston houseboat—later moved to temporary quarters in a dusty, one-room walk-up over a drugstore—has grown to be the umbrella organization for affiliated groups in 41 countries, with a membership of about 135,000 doctors, nurses and other health workers. Said the Nobel judges, IPPNW “has performed a considerable service to mankind by spreading authoritative information and by creating an awareness of the catastrophic consequences of atomic warfare.”

Lown believes it is no accident that the prize, the first ever for an East-West citizens’ group, was announced just six weeks before the Reagan-Gorbachev summit in Geneva. “We physicians have a medical prescription: Stop all nuclear explosions,” Lown says. He urges President Reagan to take up the Soviet offer of a nuclear test ban to prevent “the final epidemic”—nuclear war. “The President,” he says, “is in a unique situation. He can [by his deeds at the summit] give a Nobel prize to every American.”

After learning of their prize in Geneva while planning an IPPNW congress, Chazov and Lown embraced and traded kisses on both cheeks. “I feel that no single person can do something worthwhile,” explained Chazov. “Only a big movement, a large organization, can move things ahead.”

The IPPNW actually sprang out of a meeting of eight doctors Lown invited to his home in 1960 after he heard a stirring talk on the danger of atomic conflict given by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Philip Noel-Baker. “His views had a profound intellectual impact on me,” says Lown. “He spelled out the consequences of nuclear war like some ancient Hebrew prophet.” That first meeting spawned Physicians for Social Responsibility (now an IPPNW affiliate), which produces articles, talks and forums on the medical effects of nuclear war.

After their elevator run-in in New Delhi 25 years ago, Lown and Chazov began corresponding about medical matters and visiting each other’s facilities. Admitted workaholics, both were leaders in cardiology; Lown invented the defibrillator, which shocks a damaged heart into beating regularly again, and Chazov with a group of Soviet scientists helped develop streptokinase, a widely used drug to dissolve blood clots. Moreover, Chazov over the years has risen quickly through the Soviet hierarchy and is now a member of the Communist Party’s influential Central Committee.

Often viewed as “brothers” on the medical and disarmament lecture circuits, Chazov admits that he and his Western colleagues do not agree on everything. “We decided,” he says, “that we should concentrate on the one thing we could agree on—telling the world what nuclear war would mean.” Chazov, a stocky, red-haired grandfather who was born in the industrial city of Gorky, rarely deviates from the official Soviet line. Nevertheless, his antinuke efforts have been given official support. In 1982, for example, he arranged an unprecedented hour-long discussion on the subject—televised throughout the U.S.S.R.—with Dr. James Muller, one of Lown’s Harvard cardiology colleagues.

“Chazov is one of the most courageous people in the Soviet Union,” says Lown. “He outlined nuclear war as it really is.” Lown, moreover, believes that Chazov, unlike the 1975 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Andrei Sakharov, will be permitted to attend the Oslo prize presentation in December. “In fact,” says Lown grinning, “we’ve already discussed our speeches.”

Chazov often plays the genial host to visiting American doctors. Explains one such physician, Dr. Albert Rubin of the Rogosin Institute at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center: “I admire most the fact that Chazov gets across the message without polarizing people so much that the message is lost. It’s important to keep the ideas moving. I’m sure the Nobel prize people took this into consideration.”

Chazov, whose two daughters are physicians, lives with his wife in a modest Moscow apartment. Bernard Lown’s home is in an upper-income neighborhood in suburban Newton, Mass. He and wife Louise have three offspring, aged 32 to 38—a junior high school teacher and two social workers.

Lown, who as a boy was brought to Lewiston, Maine by his father, received his undergraduate degree in classics at the University of Maine. After being turned down by Harvard, Chicago and other medical schools because “it was the ’40s and they had their Jewish quota filled,” he was accepted at Johns Hopkins and, with the help of an Army training program, got his medical degree in 1945.

Called up in 1946 for two years’ active duty as a first lieutenant, he was honorably discharged the next year as a captain when a small tumor was found on his shoulder blade. In 1953, during the Korean War, his draft board sent the young doctor, now father of three children, back into the Army. This time, however, Lown was mustered out on an “undesirable” discharge—later changed to “honorable”—because, in his words, he was a “maverick.” It was the McCarthy era and, he says, he had refused to sign an organization-affiliation statement, fearing that earlier attendance at a Yale Marxist study group might be used against him. Blacklisted from significant medical employment for two years, he wrote what is now considered a classic treatise on digitalis drugs. In retrospect, he says, “I feel proud that in many ways I didn’t compromise my beliefs.”

Lown, Chazov and other IPPNW members plan to use their $225,000 Nobel prize money to continue worldwide lecture tours for its doctors. “We take the position that we should not spread the arms race into space,” says Lown, adding that he would like to see a “medical school in the sky.” Through a satellite hookup, he explains, “we could bring to all parts of the world the latest medical information.”

Closer to earth, Lown has another project to oversee. Years ago, when he and IPPNW staffers moved out of their drugstore walk-up, one of them jokingly vowed that if their little founding group “ever won a Nobel Peace Prize, we might have to put up a commemorative plaque” at Sparr’s drugstore in Boston. Says the elated colleague: “Now I guess we’ll have to do it.”