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Machines in Our Hearts

Hardback
, 384 pages

7 halftones, 2 line drawings

ISBN:
9780801865794
May 2001
$59.00

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Machines in Our Hearts

The Cardiac Pacemaker, the Implantable Defibrillator, and American Health Care

Today hundreds of thousands of Americans carry pacemakers and implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs) within their bodies. These battery-powered machines—small computers, in fact—deliver electricity to the heart to correct dangerous disorders of the heartbeat. But few doctors, patients, or scholars know the history of these devices or how "heart-rhythm management" evolved into a multi-billion-dollar manufacturing and service industry.

Machines in Our Hearts tells the story of these two implantable medical devices. Kirk Jeffrey, a historian of science and technology, traces the development of knowledge about the human heartbeat and follows surgeons, cardiologists, and engineers as they invent and test a variety of electronic devices. Numerous small manufacturing firms jumped into pacemaker production but eventually fell by the wayside, leaving only three American companies in the business today. Jeffrey profiles pioneering heart surgeons, inventors from the realms of engineering and medical research, and business leaders who built heart-rhythm management into an industry with thousands of employees and annual revenues in the hundreds of millions. As Jeffrey shows, the pacemaker (first implanted in 1958) and the ICD (1980) embody a paradox of high-tech health care: these technologies are effective and reliable but add billions to the nation's medical bill because of the huge growth in the number of patients who depend on implanted devices to manage their heartbeats.

Kirk Jeffrey is a professor of history at Carleton College, where he teaches American history and the history of technology. He is coauthor (with mathematician Loren Haskins) of Understanding Quantitative History.

"The story is a complex one, and Professor Kirk Jeffrey follows its twists and turns with utter clarity, technical sophistication, and high intelligence... elegantly researched and highly thoughful... argued and written on different levels with wonderous detail and massive research."

"This is an important book that provides valuable insight into the origins and growth of one of the world's most successful biomedical industries... It includes a wealth of information and will be an indispensable reference for the development and diffusion of pacemakers. Jeffrey knows his subject and has passion for it."

"This interesting book on the history and development of pacemakers and defibrillators is recommended for electrophysiologists and cardiologists as well as for patients who have these devices."

"The historian's role in analyzing the many social and cultural factors that impinge on medical treatment, and its cost, is crucial to all of us, and this book provides much stimulation for further thought."

"If you are looking for a well-written and well-produced history of a post-war medical tecnology and its social, political and economic context, Machines in Our Hearts will be a good choice."

"Tells a story of profound significance, one of medical practice and industrial research."

"The cardiac pacemaker and the implantable cardioverter-defibrillator are among the most important medical innovations of the twentieth century. Machines in Our Hearts tells the fascinating story of this remarkable achievement. This is an original piece of work, building on a significant amount of new information from Jeffrey's interviews with key protagonists as well as careful analysis of primary and secondary source material."