US & Canada

Implantable pacemaker inventor Wilson Greatbatch dies

Wilson Greatbatch
Image caption The pacemaker was named one of society's 10 most important recent engineering contributions

The man who invented the first practical implantable cardiac pacemaker, Wilson Greatbatch, has died in Buffalo, New York, aged 92.

His pacemaker was first implanted in humans in 1960 and keeps the heart beating in a regular rhythm.

Now, hundreds of thousands of people receive pacemakers every year.

Greatbatch's cause of death is not known. But Larry Maciariello, his son-in-law, told reporters his health had been "intermittent".

He held more than 150 patents.

The first successful implant of the Greatbatch pacemaker took place in April 1960 at the Buffalo Veterans' Affairs Hospital, after extensive animal testing.

The 77-year-old patient lived for 18 months after the device was implanted.

He was not the first to come up with a surgically implanted pacemaker. That happened in 1958 in Sweden, using a device designed by Rune Elmqvist.

But the pacemaker failed after three hours and was replaced with a second one that lasted two days.

An improved version of the Elmqvist pacemaker was implanted in February 1960, in Montevideo, Uruguay. That device functioned successfully for nine months, until the patient died.

The Greatbatch pacemaker featured a mercury battery that last for two years. He later acquired the rights to a newly developed lithium-iodine battery, which proved even more effective.

In 2010, Greatbatch marked the 50th anniversary of the medical device.

His company Greatbatch Ltd - formerly Wilson Greatbatch Ltd - was founded in 1970 and manufactures batteries for the implantable pacemaker.

Inventing was Greatbatch's lifelong passion. In 1998 he was admitted to the National Inventors' Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio.

In 1983, the implantable pacemaker was named one of the 10 great engineering contributions to society in the part 50 years, by the National Society of Professional Engineers.

"Nine things out of 10 don't work," Greatbatch told the Associated Press in 1997. "The 10th one will pay for the other nine."

In his later years, Greatbatch worked on possible cures for Aids.

He was awarded the Lemelson-MIT Prize for lifetime achievement in 1996, aged 76.

He also challenged the next generation of inventors to develop nuclear fusion using a type of helium found on the moon.

Fossil fuels, Greatbatch believed, will be exhausted by 2050.

Greatbatch studied electrical engineering at Cornell University and the University of Buffalo, where he then taught engineering between 1952 and 1957.

Greatbatch served in the Navy as a rear gunner and dive bomber during World War II. He also taught in the Navy's radar school.

Greatbatch was married to his wife, Eleanor for more than 60 years. They had five children together.