Kaiser doctor who pioneered penicillin use in Richmond during WWII dies at 100

Photo courtesy of Kaiser Permanente: Dr. Morris Collen enjoying the Pacific Ocean aboard the “Flying Sorceress” 1957.

Dr. Morris Collen, a pioneer in the use of penicillin to treat pneumonia during his tenure in Richmond during Word War II, has died at age 100, according to Kaiser Permanente Medical Group, of which Dr. Collen was a founding physician.

Dr. Collen passed away at his Walnut Creek home Saturday from cancer.

The highly regarded physician began his career providing care to Henry J. Kaiser’s shipyard workers in Richmond in 1942. At the time, workers beaten down from nonstop production and difficult weather often died from pneumonia. The only treatment for pneumonia then was horse serum, which itself caused sickness.

Dr. Collen was one of the first doctors who began experimenting with penicillin to treat pneumonia on the workers.

“That’s where we began, I would say, our first clinical research, evaluating different treatments for pneumonia,” Collen stated in a Kaiser post in July.

The doctor added, “So we got the first dose of penicillin in California, and treated a young man with a very severe lobar pneumonia, type 7. They all died from that, and this poor fellow was going to die. So we gave him this one shot of 15,000 units, and to this day I keep saying it was a miracle. He recovered.”

Dr. Collen went on to break ground in other areas, particularly as a pioneer in the use of computers in medicine, including producing a prototype electronic health record, according to Kaiser.

“He began introducing computers into that health system’s medical practice in the 1960s — 20 years before luminaries such as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs became household names,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

Read Kaiser’s full obituary honoring Dr. Collen here.