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A steady stream of innovations point to the day when electronic pacemakers may be obsolete

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Dr. Gordon Chong
Dr. Gordon Chong, a retired dentist and patient at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, has had multiple pacemakers since 2011. (Photo: The Globe and Mail)

Dr. Gordon Chong may have dedicated his career to fixing teeth, but his golden years have included an unexpected education in cardiac care – specifically, his own.

A retired dentist, Dr. Chong has been the recipient of four pacemakers since being diagnosed with congestive heart failure in 2011. His pacemaker has since been fitted with a defibrillator to keep his heart functioning in the event of a major cardiac incident. 

"It seems to be working well, but the condition I have is still deteriorating," says Dr. Chong. "I'm being assessed for a heart transplant or a mechanical device that will get me over the hump for a while."

Dr. Chong, a patient of the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre (PMCC), is one of more than 10,000 Canadians who receive electronic pacemakers each year and one of more than 120,000 Canadians currently living with the life-saving technology.

The tiny devices treat arrhythmias – abnormal heart rhythms – and help the heart beat at a steady, normal pace. Pacemakers average about a seven-year lifespan before their batteries need replacing.

Dr. Chong has a unique perspective on the evolution of the heart-regulating apparatus, thanks to his medical background.

"I spent two years [studying] at the Hospital for Sick Children when I graduated and have been following (pacemaker development) for the past few years…and in the last decade, the amount of knowledge and technology, and bringing together of biometrics and biology, has been phenomenal," the 73-year-old says.

Indeed, the devices have come a long way since the invention of an external, toaster-sized pacemaker in 1950 by Canadian engineer John Hopps, in conjunction with researchers from the University of Toronto.



PMCC Magazine 

The third annual Peter Munk Cardiac Centre (PMCC) magazine published by The Globe and Mail focuses on why Canada's premier cardiac centre is known for being “the heartbeat of innovation.” The magazine explores the PMCC model that supports the creation, development and evolution of innovative ideas into action – making “today's idea, tomorrow's practice.” It also examines the impact that a culture of innovation has on the way cardiovascular care is delivered now and into the future.

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