The Business of Serving Others

Nov 7, 2011

They were our neighbors, they were brilliant, and each had a vision to do some good in the world. "They were both intellectual and practical explorers," says management consultant Emmett Murphy.  "Both wanted to do something that would change the world."

Dr. Herbert Hauptman won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1985. His work on crystal structures led to development of thousands of life-saving drugs and medical procedures.  Wilson Greatbatch developed the implantable heart pacemaker in the late 1950's.

The pacemaker has saved or improved the lives of millions of people around the world.  "It basically saved my life," says one patient at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore. Her cardiologist, Dr. Stacy Fisher says, "It's a huge contribution to society."

Azor Stong used to lift weights, but his heart rhythm was erratic. Doctors implanted a defibrillator using a pacemaker to to control the rhythm. He tells us today, "I just can't thank whoever discovered the pacemaker enough for giving me back my life."

We lost all three of them this past month to the ravages of age and disability, but their lives continue to speak to us even today. Wilson Greatbatch told us two years ago what he was thinking as he worked on the pacemaker in the barn behind his house in the Town of Clarence. "I don't care if  go broke on this thing. I think I'm here to do things for people," he said.

"He always wanted to be part of making the world a better place, for people, not just things," says daughter Anne Macieriello. She remembers how her mother Eleanor took care of their family while he worked on the pacemaker in out back in the barn. Eleanor was a partner in that, as well as in raising the family. "I used to hear them at night talking between themselves about the business," says Anne. "He could count on her to be frank. He depended on that," she says.

Wilsonwent on to develop a battery for the pacemaker that would last ten years instead of just two. "It really revolutionized the pacemaker business," Wilson recalled. "Doctors have told me that the introduction of the lithium battery to pacemakers was more significant than the invention of the pacemaker in the first place."

Wilson's battery company is now a worldwide public corporation based in Clarence. it has 12-hundred employees. The company has paid for college for the children of many of them. Thirty-four year employee Sandy Schido was one of them. "I have two daughters. One is 26. She has gone through her bachelors and her master's degree in reading literacy, and my youngest daughter is 22 and she just finished a master's in biochemistry." "

Cardiologist Dr. David Dean tells us, "He would give money generously which he's done. He gave 15-million dollars or so to Houghton College to set up a graduate program in music at the school, and before that he gave 600-thousand dollars for a science building."

"He makes you want to do good things to help your community." says Alicia Braaten, Director of the Clarence Historical Museum. "Be curious about your community." she says,  be curious about life. What I take after talking with him, is there's things going on out there that you can help with, and I think that's a good thing. I think we need more people like that."

The world has always had its predators ... those who would take the money and run, thinking only of ourselves. but we've seen  others right here where we live. Herbert Hauptman's work lives on through the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Institute on the Buffalo-Niagara Medical Campus.

In later years, Wilson Greatbatch continued to teach young  people about the importance of creative thinking and problem solving in our lives. Dr. David Dean says, "Just to have over 300 patents means that he was thinking all the time. One of his favorite pictures I think is with a young child who has a pacemaker and both of them are beaming, the child as well as Wilson."

Wilson died on September 27th at age 92. His life partner, Eleanor, passed away last January after 66 years together. Both will be buried at Fillmore Cemetery in their beloved hometown of Clarence, next to their son Peter who died 13 years ago at age 39. Daughter Anne recalls something her father used to say. "He had this expression that he used, 'Is it good in the Lord's eyes?'" "

Just ask cardiologist Stacy Fisher at Sinai Hospital about that. She's tending to a young woman who's awaiting a great event in her life."This a young patient who has a defibrillator with a Wilson Greatbatch battery and is going to have a daughter."

The patient smiles and looks down. "She's kicking. I'm okay," and laughs softly.