As the organ that keeps life-giving blood and oxygen circulating through the human body, keeping the heart functioning is vital to life itself. Medical progress has made tremendous strides in the last century, including the life-saving heart intervention of the pacemaker. Incredibly one of the men responsible for inventing the pacemaker ended up prolonging his own life with his life-saving work.
The first cardiac pacemaker was invented by a Canadian electrical engineer, John Hopps, who was researching the effects of radio frequency heating on hypothermia in 1941. Hopps found that if the heart stopped beating when its temperature dropped, it could be restarted artificially, using mechanical or electrical stimulation. This discovery led to the invention in 1950 of an pacemaker. However, the first pacemaker was too big to fit inside the human body.
Wilson Greatbatch, an American electrical engineer, invented the first implantable cardiac pacemaker, in 1958. He also invented pacemaker batteries, which were essential to its function. The invention of the transistor meant that the electrodes which the pacemaker relied on no longer used vacuum tubes, and a small device could be used.
Hopps himself became a heart patient and in 1984 he had a pacemaker implanted to regulate his own heart. By that time, it was considered a normal surgery and fitting cardiac pacemakers had become a routine procedure which saved thousands of lives.