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 Jan. 10 in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 79.
The cause was heart failure, his family said.
Dr. Morton did groundbreaking work in developing a technique called a sentinel lymph node biopsy. He also was one of the last physicians to treat the actor John Wayne in 1979, and later had a founding role in what is now the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica.
Dr. Morton 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. Full story for BostonGlobe.com subscribers.