Åke Senning, MD
First Self-Contained, Rechargeable Cardiac Pacemaker in Human Patient
Åke Senning, MD, made medical history in 1958 when he implanted the first self-contained, rechargeable cardiac pacemaker in a human patient. Senning was a Swedish cardiac surgeon who was working on the device with Rune Elmqvist, a physician and engineer with Seimens-Elema. They did not think it was ready for human use, but then they met Arne Larsson. Larsson was an engineer who developed complete heart block and syncope after a viral infection and was collapsing 20-30 times a day, requiring blows to the chest to resuscitate him each time. In desperation, his wife Else-Marie prevailed upon Senning and Elmqvist to implant their experimental device in her husband. The first device lasted three hours but was replaced by the only existing backup.
Dr. Elmqvist reportedly was not convinced his invention had much of a future, calling cardiac pacemakers “a technological curiosity, more or less.” Larsson eventually had an additional 25 devices, benefitting from technological advances that made them smaller, smarter and less invasive. He eventually outlived both his surgeon and the engineer who saved his life. He died at age 86, of melanoma.