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1958: First pacemaker implanted in human

The Story


Swedish doctor Ake Senning has successfully implanted the first pacemaker in a human. The device is based on technology pioneered by Canadian electrical engineer Dr. John A. Hopps. In 1949 Hopps conducted experiments with medical colleagues Dr. W.G. Bigelow and Dr. J.C. Callaghan at the Banting and Best Institute in Toronto. Their discovery of a method to restart a heart that had stopped beating led Hopps to develop the first pacemaker at the National Research Council in 1950. Panellists on CBC quiz show Front Page Challenge question Hopps about his invention.

Medium: Television
Program: Front Page Challenge
Broadcast Date: May 19, 1984
Guest(s): Jack Hopps, Michael Magee
Host: Fred Davis
Panellist: Pierre Berton, Betty Kennedy, Gordon Sinclair
Duration: 5:39
Photo: National Research Council Canada

Did You know?


• In 1999, National Engineering Week honoured the pacemaker as one of the five most significant Canadian engineering accomplishments of the 20th century.

• The other four winners were the Confederation Bridge, the Canadarm, the Transcontinental Railway Rogers Pass project and the IMAX system of motion picture photography and projection.

• The pacemaker was the first electronic device to be implanted in a human body.

• Hopps, known as the "father of Canadian biomedical engineering," was instrumental in establishing the profession in Canada. He was the founder and first president of the Canadian Medical and Biological Engineering Society in 1965.

• Hopps himself received a pacemaker in 1984. It lasted for 13 years before he informed his doctors that the signal was getting weak and it required a new battery. Hopps died in 1998.

• The Hopps pacemaker was a "desk top" model and was the size of a small radio. Technical advances, specifically the invention of transistors, allowed subsequent inventors to build smaller models.

• American engineer Wilson Greatbatch developed an implantable pacemaker in 1958. Greatbatch holds the patent for the pacemaker.

• The 1958 surgery, performed in Stockholm by Dr. Ake Senning, changed the life of recipient Arne Larsson, a 43-year-old suffering from a severe heart condition. He lived an active life for another 43 years and received a total of 26 pacemakers during that time.

• The pacemaker implanted in Larsson by Dr. Senning was built by Swedish engineer Rune Elmqvist.


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