Don Morton

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1/12/2014 7:49pm
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I received word earlier today that Don Morton died, after several years of fighting different cancers.  Some of you will know of Dr. Morton through his work as a pioneering melanoma surgeon and years of service is Chief of the Melanoma Program at the John Wayne Cancer Institute.  I am sure we will hear more about him in the next few days, but we have certainly lost one of the giants in the field.  Dr. Morton pushed research forward in many ways, and his efforts saved thousands of lives through the years.

Tim--MRF

JerryfromFauq - (1/12/2014 - 8:37pm)

Thank you, Tim.  This is a sad loss.

I'm me, not a statistic. Praying to not be one for years yet.

Anonymous - (1/13/2014 - 12:27pm)

Here is an article he wrote several years ago about sentinel node biopsy in melanoma:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2879706/

aldakota22 - (1/14/2014 - 6:11am)

Sad to hear that such  a wonderful and intelligent resaearcher and doctor has passed.In my prayer tonight.       aldakota22

Anonymous - (1/20/2014 - 7:21pm)

NY Times obituary for Dr. Morton

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Health
Dr. Donald Morton, Melanoma Expert Who Pioneered a Cancer Technique, Dies at 79

By WILLIAM YARDLEY

 

JAN. 20, 2014

 

 
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Dr. Donald L. Morton in 2003. In 1979, he treated John Wayne. J. Emilio Flores for The New York Times

 

 

Dr. Donald L. Morton, a son of an Appalachian coal miner who gained renown as a surgeon for helping to develop a widely used technique for detecting and treating certain kinds of cancer, died on Jan. 10 in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 79.

The cause was heart failure, his family said.

Even as Dr. Morton did groundbreaking work, he was also known as one of the last physicians to treat the actor John Wayne in 1979, when Wayne was in an advanced stage of stomach cancer. He later had a founding role in what is now the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica.

Dr. Morton, who grew up without electricity or running water in West Virginia, made his way to the forefront of global cancer research and treatment with a focus on melanoma, a type of skin cancer. He would have it himself in the late 1980s and detected it early enough to have it surgically removed. He helped save countless others from it, too.

“Dr. Morton’s discoveries have profoundly changed the treatment of human cancer,” the American College of Surgeons said in 2008 when it gave him an award for innovation in surgical technique.

In the late 1970s, while working as chief of surgical oncology at the University of California, Los Angeles, Dr. Morton helped develop a technique called a sentinel lymph node biopsy. In the past, doctors trying to determine whether cancer had spread to lymph nodes had to remove large numbers of nodes. It was a serious operation with lasting side effects, yet 80 percent of the time it proved unnecessary because no tumor was found. Dr. Morton believed many of the operations could be avoided.

“Dr. Morton’s idea was that a tumor would migrate first to one lymph node, the way water running down a mountain flows into one lake before flowing downstream to others,” Andrew Pollack wrote in a 2003 profile of Dr. Morton in The New York Times. “By injecting dye into a patient’s tumor, he hypothesized, doctors could trace the spread pattern and find that node, which could then be removed. Only if that node had cancer would others be excised.”

Dr. Alistair J. Cochran, a U.C.L.A. skin care specialist who worked with Dr. Morton, recalled their discussions about what to call the pertinent node.

“We called it the sentinel lymph node because it was the one that guarded the rest of the lymph nodes,” he said in an interview. “It stood there as sort of a soldier guarding the gate.”

The technique proved successful, and it was adapted for breast cancer cases and other cancers.

Dr. Morton helped develop the technique while also pursuing his long-held dream of creating a vaccine for melanoma. Beginning in the 1960s, he began experimenting with a vaccine that was intended not to prevent cancer but to harness the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells once they have developed. In the following decades, he became one of the top grant recipients from the National Institutes of Health, and he helped set up a private company, CancerVax, which raised money to conduct trials of the proposed vaccine, called Canvaxin.

Although early studies suggested that Canvaxin could improve the survival rate of some melanoma patients, more complete clinical trials conducted in 2005 determined that it provided no clear benefit, and the testing was stopped.

At one point, Dr. Morton gave Wayne one of his early experimental vaccines. It did not work for him.

The two men respected and even resembled each other: Dr. Morton was a large man with a chiseled chin and clear eyes. He later displayed two of Wayne’s Winchester rifles in his office.

“You can tell a lot about a person in how they respond to adversity and terminal illness,” Dr. Morton said of Wayne, “and he was a true hero.”

Several years after Wayne’s death in 1979, Dr. Morton helped start the John Wayne Cancer Clinic at U.C.L.A., which was formed with money donated by the actor’s family. In 1991, when Dr. Morton moved to St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, the center moved with him and was renamed the John Wayne Cancer Institute.

Donald Lee Morton was born on Sept. 12, 1934, in Richwood, W.Va. His father was a coal miner. He attended Berea College in Kentucky, which offered free tuition for students from Appalachia, before transferring to the University of California, Berkeley. He received his medical degree from the University of California, San Francisco, in 1958. By 1960, he was working at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md., where he began his work on melanoma.

Dr. Morton’s first wife, the former Wilma Miley, died in a car accident. In 1989 he married Lorraine Euvino (nee Russo). She survives him, as do their daughter, Danielle; his children from his first marriage, Christin Kazmierczak, Laura Morton Rowe, Diana Morton McAlpine and Donald Jr.; eight grandchildren; a brother, Patrick; and a sister, Carolyn Morton Karr.

Dr. Morton was in his 50s and deeply immersed in his work when he noticed a mole on his abdomen that proved to be melanoma. He chose to have surgery rather than take his experimental vaccine.

“If the chance of cure is 90 percent with surgery,” he said, “why would even I want to give myself an experimental vaccine?”