There are many fine men of medicine and engineering science who can lay claim to developing firsts in cardiac pacing. It is not precisely known who actually invented the very first pacemaker; so some of the best medical minds are presented here with their contributions.
Early Canadian Research
In 1950, at the University or Toronto, Drs. Wilfred Bigelow and John Callaghan used an external pacemaker invented by Dr. John Hopps to provide canine cardiac pacing. Others attribute the invention of the pacemaker to Paul Zoll, who developed his version in 1952. It was a portable version of a cardiac resuscitator that had two lead wires, which could be attached to a belt worn by the patient. It relied on electricity from the nearest wall outlet for a power source. This version was primarily used for emergency use.
First Improvements in Artificial Pacemakers
The years between 1957 and 1960 brought substantial improvement to Zoll’s invention. C. Walton Lillehei made a device that attached directly to the heart wall and required less energy to deliver an effective impulse to the heart. In 1958, the addition of battery power to the technology already in place brought more options for the use of pacemakers and allowed for the patient’s freedom of movement and allowed continuous use of the device instead of only for emergencies. However, this pacemaker was still an external device.
William Chardack and Wilson Greatbatch were the inventors of the first implantable pacemaker. It was used on the first patient in 1960. The modern technique for putting a pacemaker into a patient’s heart was developed by Seymour Furman. Instead of cutting open the patient’s chest, he inserted the leads through a vein and threaded them to the heart, which required even lower voltages to evoke a stimulus. By the late 1960s, his technique of pacemaker insertion was widely adopted by cardiologists all over the world.
More Contributions to Artificial Pacemaker Technology
Many other great men contributed to the evolution of the pacemaker. Those who had great firsts associated with pacemaker development include African-American inventor Otis Boykin; Albert Hyman, who developed a hand cranked version of the pacemaker; Dr. William L. Weirich; engineer Earl Bakken; and the team of Rune Elmqvist and Dr. Åke Senning. The contributions of these great men lend credence to the phrase, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game." There is no clear winner in the claim to have invented the pacemaker, but their contributions combined made them a great team in moving cardiac medicine toward the future.