James L. Sorenson, 86, Utah's wealthiest man, who built his fortune in pioneering medical devices and real estate, died Sunday of cancer in Salt Lake City, according to a spokesman for the Sorenson Cos.
Born in Rexburg, Idaho, in 1921, Sorenson grew up in Central California during the Depression. His family faced financial hardships and Sorenson had trouble in school because of dyslexia.
After service as a Mormon missionary in New England, Sorenson worked for the Upjohn pharmaceutical firm. In 1957, he co-founded the Deseret Pharmacy in Utah.
While calling on doctors, he noticed problems and devised solutions, starting with disposable surgical masks to replace cloth masks that had to be laundered.
His other medical inventions included the first real-time computerized heart monitoring systems and the automated intravenous drug pump.
Early in his career, Sorenson bought goat pasture in the hills above Salt Lake City for $25 an acre. The former grazing land is now home to some of the region's most plush neighborhoods, overlooking the Salt Lake Valley from the Wasatch Mountain foothills.
In later years, Sorenson developed an interest in genetics and established Sorenson Genomics, a company that assisted with DNA identification after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004.
Forbes magazine estimated his worth last year at $4.5 billion.