Canadian Inventions — The Pacemaker

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The pacemaker has saved millions of lives, including the man who invented it. Seriously, how weird is that? A guy invents a gadget that keeps a dying heart beating, which then saves the lives of millions of strangers over a couple of decades and then, forty years later, his invention saves his own life.

In 1949 two Canadian doctors, Dr. William Bigelow and Dr. John Callaghan, working at the Banting and Best Institute* laboratory in Toronto, were experimenting with extreme cold as a way to better conduct open heart surgery by slowing the human heart. Along the way they determined they needed a device to restart the heart when and if it stopped.

Canada has a pure research facility, a “blue sky lab” in Ottawa where scientists can work on anything they can get government funding for, it’s called the National Research Council. At the same time Bigelow and Callaghan were researching extreme cold and heart surgery in Toronto, Dr. John Hopps, an electrical engineer, was a researcher at the NRC working on using radio frequencies to restore body temperature in hypothermia victims. During this research he discovered that the heart could be artificially started using electricity.

The two physicians found Hopps and the three men worked together and found that by “applying a gentle electrical stimulus to the heart would not only duplicate the normal body nerve stimulation but it would also not cause any damage to the heart muscle. In addition, this technique would start a stopped heart and increase or decrease the heart rate, as required.”

The first cardiac pacemaker was fully developed by 1950, and basically took over the hearts electrical system, artificially pumping blood through the body. It was mostly an external device that operated similar to today’s internal pacemakers but weighed over three pounds and had to be plugged into the wall. It was not meant to be a permanent solution.

The first human to have one of these devices implanted was in 1958. It was the first electronic device to be implanted into the human body. Today’s pacemakers are about the size of a Toonie (a $2 Canadian coin) and, of course, fully implantable.

In 1999 the pacemaker was chosen as one of the five most significant Canadian engineering accomplishments of the 20th century by “National Engineering Week”. The other four were the Confederation Bridge, the Canadarm, the Transcontinental Railway Rogers Pass project (which my grandfather was a project manager for) and the IMAX motion picture system.

Hopps spent most of his engineering career as the head of the NRC’s Medical Engineering Section of the Division of Electrical Engineering. Under his leadership, this group produced a variety of inventions to help the blind, to assist people with muscular disabilities, and to advance the diagnostic uses of ultrasound. He and his colleagues also developed technologies that built upon his early cardiovascular research. In 1984 Hopps had a pacemaker implanted to regulate his own heartbeat. Hopps passed away on November 24, 1998.

*Banting & Best, Canadians, “invented” insulin.


Just a quick warning about the comment section… for some reason the entire population of Colombia took exception with this piece. Or at least some Trolls had some fun, but so did I. Enjoy.


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About Gabriel

I’ve lived in more than fifty places. I've been paid to pick stones out of fields, take backstage photos of Britney Spears, and report on Internet privacy issues. My photos have been published in several newspapers, and a couple of magazines.
This entry was posted in Canada, Canadian Inventions, CSN:AFU Greatest Hits, Humor, Humour, Vankleek Hill Photos, Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to Canadian Inventions — The Pacemaker

  1. Queen Minx says:

    ‘In 1984 Hopps had a pacemaker implanted to regulate his own heartbeat.’
    I am assuming it wasn’t the ‘plug-in the wall’ version!??? I’ll bet he was thinking ‘Thank F**K or ‘The Lord’ I invented this!?!’
    Who invented chewing-gum??? Was it a Canadian … if so, kick his ass because I had a dream last night it was stuck to my teeth and I couldn’t get it off. Not Pleasant!

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  3. Toby says:

    Actually, the real Herat Pace Maker was invented by a brilliant Colombian scientist named JORGE REYNOLDS. Such misleading arrogance as is found on this iste has to be addressed.
    If you do not beleive me, just Google for the truth please. In fact, Colombia was also ranked by the World Health organization to have the best healthcare in the Americas. Obviously, I am moving to Colombia, as so many smart Canadians (and enven USA-Americnas) have already done.

  4. Gabriel. says:

    Actually, Toby, “In 1958, [Reynolds] helped design one of the first pacemakers in the world.” He may have even developed the first internal artificial pacemaker, but if you had read this piece you would have learned “The first cardiac pacemaker was fully developed by 1950″… by three Canadians who, most likely, had never been to Columbia.

    So Jorge worked to develop a smaller product, but he did not invent the first one.

    “One Of The First” is not The First. Have fun living in the third world, watch out for the FARC.

    • Andres says:

      I know you wrote this many years ago, but it is never to late to save someone from ignorance… is it?

      So if you are going to talk sh¡t about colombia do some research first, he has nothing to watch about with FARC. it is dum sh¡ts like you that make my country have bad fame. so please shut the fuçk up.

      • Gabriel says:

        I did all the research I had to do, Andres. Jorge had nothing to do with the invention of the pacemaker.

        My “FARC” comment was clearly meant to be sardonic, like if I were to say “gee, Andres, I hope you don’t play soccer because if you were to make an ‘own goal’ your countrymen, based on past behaviour, would gun you down like a Brazilian cop spotting a homeless kid in Rio.” Or something like that… I’m sure, if I were to be sardonic again, there’d probably be some passing reference to Pablo Escobar.

        If you happen to run into a member of her family, please thank them for Sofía Vergara.

    • Maria says:

      Hah LIKE U HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY!!!! If your gonna say something say it right its called COLOMBIA

      • Gabriel says:

        …fantastic. Thanks for the comment, Maria. The ‘Colombia’ v. ‘Columbia’ thing has already been discussed, and no one from either place had anything to do with the invention of the pacemaker.

        Also, it’s ‘you’, not ‘U’; ‘going’, not ‘gonna’; ‘you’re’, not ‘your’, and; ‘it’s’, not ‘its’.

  5. Simon says:

    I’ll take the Third World over boring @ss Canada any day!

  6. Gabriel says:

    Have fun fighting the dogs for your food Simon.

  7. Simon says:

    Have fun freezing your @$$ off in Canada while I’m working on my tan!

  8. CANADA says:


  9. daniel says:

    wow gabriel please stfu when you clearly dont know anything about colombia

  10. Gabriel says:


    GDP: $400.3 billion (2009 est.)
    GDP – per capita (PPP): $9,200 (2009 est.) world ranking: 110
    Population below poverty line: 49.2% (2005)
    Agriculture – products: coffee, cut flowers, bananas, rice, tobacco, corn, sugarcane, cocoa beans, oilseed, vegetables; forest products; shrimp
    Industries: textiles, food processing, oil, clothing and footwear, beverages, chemicals, cement; gold, coal, emeralds

    According to the United Nations Human Development Report (2009), which measures life expectancy, literacy, school enrolment and per capita gross domestic product, Columbia ranked 77 out of 182, Norway came in first… guess who came in at #4?

    And Jorge Reynolds had nothing to do with the invention of the pacemaker.

    • Andres says:

      Come, live here…. and maybe if you go into the fuçking jungle where nobody lives, and the few FARC integrants that are still around are, we (the people in general) will have a good chance that an ignorant dumb sh¡t like you is removed from the internet.

      …. and yes he had

      • Gabriel says:

        No, he really didn’t. Things can only be invented once, Andres, after that they get modified. Three Canadians invented the pacemaker, Jorge modified the pacemaker.

        Andres, this post is not a referendum on the achievements of the Columbian people. But now that your government has finally scrapped the Spanish-style criminal justice system which allowed Pablo et al to run Columbia for so long, and fully adopted the British-American system, I’m sure the world can look forward to Columbian innovations and inventions that don’t involve ‘neckties’.

        • Andres says:

          First, it is Colombia, with an O, Columbia is a place in the US. And you making reference to past things such as FARC and Pablo Escobar so late after ( not due to time but to “stages” in our history) is like me telling you to go and cry to your queen just because you used to have one. They are different stages, moments, in history, they have nothing to do whith current time or current people. And our justice sistem is not an American sistem, it has problaby more differences than similarities. Ain’t saying it is good, I mostly protest against it. And Colombian inventions have been from long before the 1991 constitution. Ie: the first synthetic vaccine, created over 25 years ago by a Colombian.

  11. Fred says:

    Good job Gabriel! Getting rid of an idiot like that!

  12. Gabriel says:

    Hello Andres… I’m glad to see you’ve accepted the fact the pacemaker was invented inside Canada, by three Canadians… which remains the point of this post.

    As for your off-topic points…

    1. You should probably let Ingrid Betancourt, who was only rescued from the FARC three years ago, know the years of rape and assault she suffered at the hands of the FARC has “nothing to do whith (sic) current time or current people.”.

    2. …(sigh) the world’s first synthetic vaccine was not invented in Colombia… or by a Colombian. It was created in 1982 by two scientists: Louis Chedid (French) and Michael Sela (Polish). In 1986, a Colombian scientist named Manuel Elkin Patarroyo “created the first version of a synthetic vaccine for Malaria“. Again, much like the pacemaker, stuff can only invented once, after that they’re modified.

    3. You might be interested in this, it’s an excellent documentary, called “The Two Escobars”, aboot the relationship between Pablo Escobar, cocaine, hit squads, murdered referees and the success of Colombia’s national soccer team (ie: Narco-soccer) during the early 1990’s. [link]

    …again, this is a post aboot the development and invention of the pacemaker by three Canadians, and not aboot the merits of living in Colombia, or being a Colombian… although I am surprised you haven’t all moved to Chile by now. Chile… now THAT’S a country worth something.

  13. Mao says:

    Well certainly, both of you a re kind of lost in words. The Colombiaan Reynolds was the one who implanted the first in-vivo pacemaker. And the Canadians had already been working on it. But not only the Canadians; many more others around the world… Nonetheless to say, the first in-vivo was in Bogotá-Colombia. Viva Colombia. And then we can also say: when FARC scares foreign ignorants off, no problems if they get a heart complication. We had also the answer. So both sides we are present. :P

    • Gabriel says:

      Hi. This conversation has been over for a few months now, and if there was a debate I’m pretty sure Reason won.

      I’m not sure if you’re trying to be a mediator or a troll, but I’ll go with the former for now, even though I don’t believe one is needed…

      First, the FARC had nothing to do with the pacemaker. I look forward to a vigorous debate on their existence when I do finally write a post about them.

      Second, there is no debate over who invented the pacemaker. Eight years before Mr. Reynolds did whatever he did, the Canadians had done more than “work on it”, they had invented it. Mr. Reynolds might have been the first person to add a transistor radio and cup holder to a pacemaker, but it wasn’t the first pacemaker.

      The Wright brothers invented the plane, not Ernst Heinkel. Three Canadians invented the pacemaker, not anyone else.

      Hope this clears everything up.

  14. moshe says:

    Hi Gabriel, right now I’m taking a class with Dr. Reynolds, I’m in med school, and he just told us everything about inventions and else. Those Canadiens did “invent” the pacemaker, but it was not functional at all. Reynolds had the idea of making it usefull, and so he did, so in fact, an inventor is the one who makes tools usefull and in a way it can be applied, not just a model. And the off-topics, FARC it’s just a stereotyped identity as well American government has the fame of being the most terrifying entity ( watch out all ” black-operations” done from them). And finally telling you, Canadien government is actually searching Doctors from Colombia, Cuba, and other places, because they don’t have well trained Doctors either poblation. Thanks

    • Gabriel says:

      Hi Moshe, please say hi to Dr. Reynolds for me, and thank him for his contribution to medical science. He certainly seems to have very high standards, what with him telling you the Canadian invention he later modified was useless or whatever, even though it obviously worked. But I’m sure if your professor was a mechanic he’d be standing in front of your class bitching about how the first car ever invented couldn’t go 100mph.

      You should also remind Dr. Reynolds there were several important advancements in pacemaker technology between the Canadians and his work. He should have no problem telling you stories about American’s Paul Zoll and Dr. William L. Weirich, seeing as how their research was essential to his modification of the pacemaker.

      Then maybe he can tell you all about the hundreds of doctors, researchers and inventors who have modified the pacemaker since his contribution. Many of whom, I’m sure, refer to Dr. Reynolds work as important, but barely functional.

      And, yup, Canada, and other first world nations (like the US), are always busy recruiting doctors from other countries. Couple of things about that:

      1. there are thousands of Canadian doctors working in the United States, so the easiest way to make up some of the shortfall is to recruit from other countries. It’s called a “brain drain”.

      2. Doctors brought to Canada from Columbia, or Cuba, have to spend years in a Canadian university retraining and upgrading their skills so they can qualify to work in a Canadian hospital.

      3. There really are not many doctors who graduated from Colombian or Cuban universities working in Canada, but I hope you have the opportunity.

      I would love if one person, hopefully one from Colombia, could tell me who kidnapped, raped and (for six years) tortured Ingrid Betancourt. Because, from what I’ve read, she’s Colombian, and she blames it all on the FARC.

      Anyway, thanks for confirming the pacemaker was invented by a bunch of Canadians (which has always been the point of this post), and that it was later modified by roughly 100 other doctors, researches and inventors… one of whom was Dr. Reynolds.

  15. Eddy says:

    I love Canada. we rock! and thanks, this really helpped me with my project! :)

    • Gabriel says:

      Anytime Eddy, because that’s what this blog is all aboot… corrupting the world of tomorrow by offering today’s students the tools to get ahead without trying even a little bit. We better get an A on this report, Eddy.

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  17. raincoaster says:

    But…is there ANYONE working on getting an enema successfully implanted in Colombia? That’s what I want to know.

    • Gabriel says:

      I’m not sure who invented the enema, or how they do it in Colombia, but I do know, on this site, over a period of a few weeks, several were given. And Colombia is cleaner for having visited here. And, really, that’s what this site is all about… introducing liquids into the rectum and colon, via the anus, to induce a complete evacuation of the lower intestinal tract. And commas. This site is, definitely, about overusing commas.

  18. Paul Menhennett says:

    Google Dr Lidwell. He is credited with inventing the electronic pacemaker in the 1920’s. All others are derivitive developments of that design. It, like the zipper that Canada also claims to have invented, are not Canadian.

    • Gabriel says:

      Hi Paul, and a hearty Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi! Oi! Oi! to you.

      Actually Mark based his little salt-water / pin-in-the-heart trick on the 1889 published research of a Brit named John MacWilliam, who, I assume, based his research on the 1818 work of Mary Shelley… or Ben Franklin’s experiments in 1750.

      I’ll quote the Official Wikipedia entry for the ‘Artificial cardiac pacemaker’ here: “In 1950, Canadian electrical engineer John Hopps designed and built the first external pacemaker…”.

      …if I ever decide to write a series of posts on ‘Things Canadians Didn’t Invent’, I’m sure the zipper will be close to the top of the list. At least we agree the Colombians had nothing to do with inventing the pacemaker.

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