Bryn Mawr cardiologist branches out into fiction

Peter Kowey , a cardiologist at Lankenau Medical Center, published his second novelin December. CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Peter Kowey , a cardiologist at Lankenau Medical Center, published his second novelin December. CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Posted: February 04, 2013

A while back, Peter Kowey was in a Philadelphia courtroom as a defense witness in a malpractice case. The plaintiff, a husband whose wife had died of cardiac arrest, was testifying about his ruined life. Kowey was growing angry. He knew the husband was wealthy, and that a few months after his wife died, he had married her best friend.

Sitting at the defense table, Kowey vented his ire by sketching the first chapter of a medical murder mystery on a yellow legal pad. The result: Kowey's first book of fiction, Lethal Rhythm, published in 2010.

Set in Philadelphia, the novel tells the story of Philip Sarkis, a cardiologist who is sued for malpractice after a young mother dies suddenly. When the jury rules against him, he loses everything - his family, career, house - falls into depression, and begins drinking. He eventually rallies, and with the aid of two skillful female attorneys, learns the truth about his dead patient, her husband, and the man's mistress. The local mob gets involved, and at book's end, a limousine is pulled out of the Schuylkill with two bodies in the trunk.

On Amazon, one reader described the book as "an engaging blend of med tech, mystery, and local Philly flavor, and just plain fun." It sold about 8,000 copies.

The experience of writing the book "was fabulous," Kowey says. "I can't tell you how positive it was."

Based at Lankenau Medical Center in Wynnewood, Kowey is a cardiologist who specializes in heart-rhythm disorders and is chief of the division of cardiovascular diseases for Main Line Health System. An early riser, he wrote the book usually between 5:30 and 7 a.m. in his office, and on weekends at a Poconos vacation home.

In December, his second medical mystery, Deadly Rhythm, was published. Again, Sarkis is the protagonist, but this time the setting is the Poconos, where Sarkis has moved with Dorothy Deaver, one of the lawyers who helped him reassemble his shattered life. After a fall, a World War II veteran living in a nursing home dies a few days later in a Scranton hospital of cardiac arrest. The man's two children, who had abandoned him, bring a malpractice claim against his doctors. Asked to review the case, Sarkis begins to have suspicions. He and Dorothy are appalled when they find many other old men in the area have died similarly.

Kowey, 63, a cordial man, stocky and solid-looking, grew up in Norristown. His Lebanese father and Italian mother placed great stock in education. After Bishop Kenrick High School, he attended St. Joseph's University, majoring in biology. He earned his medical degree at the University of Pennsylvania. After his internship and residency at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, he received fellowships at the Harvard School of Public Health and Peter Bent Brigham Hospital (now Brigham and Women's Hospital) in Boston. He lives in Bryn Mawr and is married and the father of three daughters (two are lawyers; one is studying law at Drexel.)

Kowey knew from an early age he wanted to be a physician. But he was also an avid reader who excelled in English. He counts himself lucky to have been educated by "nuns who really drilled us" in grammar and the science of writing. At St. Joe's, besides his pre-med curriculum, he took English and writing courses.

"It was always in my head that I would like to do some medical fiction writing some day," Kowey says. "Storytelling is the most important part of fiction. Over the years, the best doctors I've met can tell about their patients in clinical vignettes."

At Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, his mentor in cardiology, Bernard Lown (who won the Nobel Peace Prize), was a master at describing his patients in stories, and Kowey took his example to heart.

David Behrend of Bryn Mawr, who helps lawyers plan careers, finished each of Kowey's books in a couple of nights. He calls the novels "riveting."

"These are not traditional murder mysteries, but whodunits at the highest intellectual level," Behrend said.

Kowey's next book of fiction will be based on the story of Boston Celtics basketball star Reggie Lewis, who died of cardiac arrest during an off-season practice.

"What started as a hobby is a way for me to get away from the stress of being a physician," Kowey says. "My wife says it's expanding my right brain. In my work, I exercise my left brain too much, so this is my way of being creative."

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