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The Pacemaker: an accidental discovery

Accidental medical discoveries, such as Penicillin and the Pap Smear, have made a world of difference to the human race at large - adding extended health and longevity, and the Pacemaker machine is no different… the machine used to regulate the heartbeat amongst affected patients.

In 1956, electrical engineer, Wilson Greatbatch, was working on the creation of an internal heart rhythm-recording device for the Chronic Disease Research Institute. During the development of his project, Greatbatch accidentally installed the wrong part into his prototype machine. The oscillator that Greatbatch was busy working on required a 10 KΩ resistor at the transistor base.

Greatbatch later confirmed that he had reached into his resistor box for the required resistor, but had misread the colour coding and took a 1 MΩ resistor by mistake. Without realizing his mistake, Greatbatch inserted the incorrect resistor and the device duly emitted an electrical pulse that was able to help the human heart pump rather than record a heartbeat, as had been the original intention. So the Pacemaker is it was to become known was born!

Today, Pacemakers save countless lives by monitoring and recording the heart’s electrical activity and rhythm.

What then is a Pacemaker, you may ask? It is an electrically-charged medical device that the surgeon implants under the skin to help manage irregular heartbeats that are called arrhythmias.

Modern pacemakers comprise two parts. The one part, called the pulse generator, contains the battery and the electronics that control the heartbeat. The other part comprises one or more leads to send electrical signals to the heart. Leads are small wires that run from the pulse generator to the heart.

Pacemakers generally treat two types of arrhythmias:

1. Tachycardia, which is a heartbeat that is too fast.

2. Bradycardia, which is a heartbeat that is too slow.

Some patients require a special type of pacemaker called a biventricular pacemaker, or bivent. A bivent is used in cases of severe heart failure. The bivent makes the two sides of the heart beat in sync, which is medically referred to as cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT).


© Maboneng Heart and Lung Institute 2017 | Featured Image:


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