It was 1949, and cardiologists Drs. Wilfred Bigelow and John Callaghan were researching whether dramatically cooling a dog’s body would enable them to execute open-heart surgery in the basement of Toronto’s Banting Institute. Unfortunately, the dog’s heart spontaneously stopped during the operation.
Dr. Bigelow, desperate to resuscitate the animal, poked the dog’s left ventricle with his hand. The movement, which resembled the rhythm of a regular heartbeat, jolted the heart back from the dead. It also triggered the thought that electrical pulses might have the same effect as a manual poke.
The surgeons developed a machine with the assistance of the National Research Council in Ottawa, making their vision a reality. The pacemaker resembled an old-fashioned mantel device, with dials to regulate the heart rate and catheters that fed electrodes via the veins to the heart.
The above is one example of how Canadians improve medical technology one device at a time. Pacemakers, which are now much smaller and implantable, have saved millions of lives, including the man who invented them.
Though many Canadians are capable of innovating, industry leaders believe few have the expertise required to take a medical device from concept to innovation and then to commercial viability. As a result, many groundbreaking medical advances may never hit the patients’ bedside.