Artificial cardiac pacemakersThe idea of using an electronic device to artificially stimulate the heart was so controversial back in the 1930s that some likened it to reviving the dead, according to an article on the website of the Science Museum in London.
By the 1950s, pioneers including Dr. C. Walton Lillehei at the University of Minnesota were using pacemakers. Medtronic’s roots go back to co-founder Earl Bakken helping Lillehei by creating a small, external, portable, battery-powered pacemaker.
But it was implantable pacemakers that changed the game, providing an implanted electronic device with the potential keep someone with a cardiac arrhythmia alive for decades. An implantable pacemaker developed by engineer Rune Elmqvist and Dr. Åke Senning became the first to go into a person during a surgery on patient Arne Larsson at Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm, Sweden in 1958, according to Siemens’ corporate history. Larsson ended up using a total 26 pacemakers through his life, outliving both Elmqvist and Senning by the time of his death in 2001.
Implantable pacemakers were revolutionary, but they may not have become disruptive if not for the American engineer and inventor Wilson Greatbatch, who introduced lithium batteries for the devices in the early 1970s. Manny Villafaña and Anthony Adducci’s Cardiac Pacemakers Inc. (now part of Boston Scientific’s Guidant business) introduced the first pacemaker using lithium battery technology. The battery innovation gave pacemakers the reliability and longevity needed for them to become a standard of cardiac care — and a multibillion-dollar industry.
Implantable pacemakers opened the way for ICDs, neuromodulation devices and other electronics implanted inside humans beings.