The Humble Tinkerer

Kathryn Misra
By Kathryn Misra
December 10, 2020

“I’m beginning to think I may not change the world, but I’m still trying,” 
~Mr. Greatbatch 

2020 has been a challenging, tiring and crazy year for so many of us. As we come into this magical time of the year and look forward to a new year, it seems only appropriate to share my story about an inspiring inventor. 

Early in my career, I took a job at a small company in Clarence, NY. It was right in my backyard. Yet, I had never heard of it. I was eager to start but didn’t think it would be different than other jobs I had. 

Then I started and I became inspired. These employees focused on changing the world with their technologies and innovations – much like their founder, Mr. Greatbatch. Their jobs weren’t just jobs. They were making a difference. That’s when I knew I wanted to be a part of the medtech industry. I wanted to help gifted engineers and scientists communicate about their technologies and devices so they could focus on what they did best – bringing life-saving and life-enhancing technology to the world. 

It’s been almost 15 years and I’m still inspired by Mr. Greatbatch (or Mr. G for those of us who knew him). Many startups and innovators can relate to how passionate he was about innovating. He gave his blood, sweat and tears to the pacemaker. It started when he persuaded his wife to give him a year. He thought he was close. He just needed dedicated time to work on it. If at the end of the year, it wasn’t successful then he would go back to a desk job. Lucky for many around the world, the time that he spent in his barn that year paid off.

“I seriously doubt if anything I ever do will ever give me the elation I felt that day when my own two cubic inch piece of electronic design controlled a living heart,” Mr. Greatbatch wrote in a diary afterward.

While he’s most known for co-inventing the first implantable pacemaker and licensing the patent to Earl Bakken at Medtronic, he’s done so much more. As an innovator to his core, he received over 300 patents during his lifetime. He went on to refine the lithium iodine battery technology which made the pacemaker safer and allowed it to be implanted for up to 10 years. NASA used his battery technology in the astronaut’s gloves. Later in his life, he worked on alternative energy sources to replace fossil fuels and a cure for AIDS. 

Yet, whenever people ask what he was like, those aren’t the things I mention first. What always amazed me was his humility. He would share his insights with others in hopes that they might have the missing piece of the puzzle. He didn’t want the credit or fame. He only wanted to improve the world.

When you’re working on your next innovation and need some inspiration, think of all the engineers and scientists, like Mr. G, who came before you. It wasn’t easy for them. They faced many challenges and had many failures. But what they were able to accomplish with passion and a dream has forever improved our lives as well as our family and our friends.

Happy Inventing!