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R Adams Cowley (July 25, 1917 – October 27, 1991) was an American surgeon considered a pioneer in emergency medicine and the treatment of shock trauma.[1] He is also known for being one of the first to perform open-heart surgery and invented both a surgical clamp that bears his name and a prototype pacemaker that was used by Dwight D. Eisenhower.[2]


He was instrumental in the creation of the first statewide EMS system in the United States in his home state of Maryland, which included the first use of helicopters for civilian medical use, and founded the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services, which was renamed the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center after his death.[3] He is also credited with conceiving the concept of the "golden hour" and raising awareness of the opportunity for prevention of traumatic injury. In 1986, he was named director of the newly created National Study Center for Trauma and Emergency Medical Systems.[2]

Personal life

Cowley was born in Layton, Utah on July 25, 1917. He was married to Roberta S. Cowley, with whom he had a son, R Adams Cowley II, and a daughter, Kay Cowley Pace.[2] Outside of the practice of medicine, he was an elder in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[1]

Cowley died of heart failure on October 27, 1991. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

First name

Cowley's grandfather had wanted him named "Rufus" after himself, but his mother disliked the name. So Cowley's official first name became simply "R", and he insisted that it be written without a period after it.[4]

Media portrayal

Cowley is portrayed by William Conrad in the 1982 made-for-TV film Shocktrauma.[2]

See also



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