William M. Chardack

William M. Chardack, MD Andrew A. Gage, MD, Anthony J. Federico, MD William M. Chardack, MD, a recognized pioneer in the development of the implantable cardiac pacemaker, died on May 28, 2006 at the age of 91 years. Dr. Chardack was a skilled and innovative cardiothoracic surgeon who was also known for his admirable leadership, tenacious pursuit of cures for difficult cancers, and experimental surgical research.

Chardack’s noteworthy career started in 1947 as Assistant Chief of Surgery at the VA Hospital, Castle Point, New York. In early 1950, he moved to the VA Hospital, Buffalo, New York. From late 1950 to 1952, he served in Korea as Chief Surgeon of the 1st MASH (8209th), earning a Bronze Star and a Croix de Guerre for a battlefront-developed transfusion pump made from the base of an artillery shell. Chardack then returned to the VA Hospital in Buffalo, where he successfully removed a Pancoast tumor (1952), achieving the first recorded long-term survival for a patient with that pernicious lesion. As Chief of Surgery in 1954, he established the University Thoracic Surgical Residency and was among the first to use aortic homografts for treatment of the Leriche syndrome and abdominal aortic aneurysms, as well as to perform the first closed mitral valvuloplasty in Buffalo.

Beginning in the mid 1950s, Chardack’s earliest research focused on the revascularization of ischemic myocardium. He later extended his efforts to include the implantable cardiac pacemaker (Surgery, 1960), pumping devices for cardiac assistance, carotid sinus stimulation for relief of hypertension, hyperbaric oxygenation for coronary arterial occlusion, and synthetic substitutes for skin.

Cardiac Pacemaker

Chardack’s most outstanding contribution to medicine was his leadership role on the team of Chardack, Greatbatch, and Gage, which developed the first successful implantable cardiac pacemaker. In early 1958, Greatbatch constructed a handful of low current drain transistorized pulse generators driven by mercury cells that successfully paced the canine heart. In 1960, 16 patients with complete heart block benefited from implantation of the pacemaker. Subsequent and frequent myocardial electrode failures identified the critical need for an electrically and mechanically stable electrode. Working with remarkable determination, Chardack developed a helical coil electrode based on an intraoral orthodontic spring and made from corrosion-resistant platinum-iridium alloy (1961). Then a substantial technological advance in pacing, Chardack’s helical coil electrode subsequently enabled the successful technique of pacing with transvenous electrodes (1964). In later years, he contributed widely to pacemaker design and use until it became largely an electrical engineering task.

Chardack was a dedicated public servant, military surgeon, clinician, and research scientist who actively encouraged his associates and resident surgical staff to participate in his diverse research programs. In addition to several patents and numerous professional publications, he contributed to the Sabiston Textbook of Surgery and Gibbon’s Surgery of the Chest, for which he authored the chapters on cardiac pacemakers. Remembered for his keen intelligence, inquisitive nature, perseverance, and zest for life.