When Michael Gordon first started taking the mannequin to medical conferences, they didn’t take him seriously.
The University of Miami professor had just developed the world’s first cardiopulmonary patient simulator — a life-size mannequin that could simulate 20 different human body indicators — like blood pressure and pulse. But when he took it to conferences to show it for the first time in 1968, he and his invention were not well-received.
“The scientific community, the academic community thought he was crazy,” said S. Barry Issenberg, Gordon’s mentee and a senior associate dean for research in medical education at the University of Miami. Medical students at that time were learning cardiology exclusively on patients, and several doctors at such conferences thought Gordon’s device was unnecessary.
Gordon, however, “saw where medicine was going, that patients were soon not going to be spending weeks in the hospital where students would have ample opportunity to learn,” Issenberg said. He continued to advocate on behalf of the device, which he named “Harvey” for a former professor and mentor, and it went on to be used widely.
After several decades as a leader and educator at the University of Miami, Gordon passed away in his sleep Friday in Miami, his wife, Lynda, confirmed. He was 80.
Michael Gordon was born March 29, 1937, in Chicago. His mother, Dorée, was a Broadway actress who gave up the stage when she married Lee Gordon, who had been a stockbroker in New York. In Illinois, where Michael grew up, he eagerly pursued the sciences, graduating from the University of Illinois with his bachelor’s degree and then his medical degree in 1959.
Michael moved to Florida for the first time the following year to pursue a one-year internship at Jackson Memorial Hospital. He then left to pursue a fellowship at the Mayo Clinic, a simultaneous Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota and subsequently a position at Georgetown.
In 1966, he came back to teach at the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami, where he would spend the rest of his career. He quickly embraced the school’s culture of creativity and entrepreneurship, Issenberg said, and developed the Harvey mannequin two years later.
“What drove him here was what drove a lot of people in Miami,” he added. Even when his peers doubted the value of his invention, his vision “gave him the energy, the drive, to prove them wrong.”
Nor was “Harvey” Gordon’s only invention. In the 1980s, he developed a computer-based learning system called UMedic to teach skills in multiple medical disciplines, including cardiology. He also designed new training for Miami-Dade first responders to speed up their response to medical emergencies.
Gordon would make a lasting financial and institutional impact to UM as well: He founded and directed the Michael S. Gordon Center for Research in Medical Education, where he would continue pursuing new ways to teach medicine and train first responders.
At the center, “what Michael was able to do was get people to believe in the vision of saving lives,” Issenberg, who is its current director, said. “His passion rubbed off on them. … Everyone, every day, knew they were contributing to the mission.”
But though he was deeply committed to his work, Gordon was also devoted to his wife, Lynda, and his three children from a previous marriage. Long after they met and married in 1992, they made time to travel together and meet new people, she said.
He often repeated a saying, she recalled: “If you want to go faster, go alone; if you want to go further, go together.”
In later years, Gordon was honored with several awards for his teaching and innovation, Lynda Gordon said. But her husband always remained humble and grounded.
“He was bigger than life and yet in his own life, he wasn’t,” she said. “In the quiet moments we were together, he was just Michael.”
Gordon is survived by his wife, Lynda; sons, David Lee and Kevin; daughter, Cathy; and four granddaughters.
A private service for family and friends is scheduled for Monday. A memorial service and celebration of Gordon’s life is being planned for a later date, according to the University of Miami.