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World's smallest pacemaker

Buffalo native with computer engineering degree helps create device tiny enough to place inside the heart

By Ed DuBois

An activity called Odyssey of the Mind is fondly remembered by Wade Demmer, who grew up while attending school in Buffalo.  The creative thinking and problem-solving challenges of Odyssey of the Mind are closely related to what he has been doing at the huge medical technology company, Medtronic, he said.

Demmer, 39, a 1996 Buffalo High School graduate, studied computer engineering in college.  He now has 35 patents in the medical device field, and he has been a leader in the development of Micra, the world's smallest pacemaker.

Micra is about the size of a vitamin capsule, and it has no lead wire to connect with the heart.  Instead of being attached outside the body, Micra is placed directly inside the heart.  It monitors the heart, and when the heart needs help, Micra delivers a tiny shock, which is similar to the electrical signal the heart generates on its own.

Micra is a very small computer, and its tiny battery is designed to last 10-15 years.

Demmer, who has worked with physicians while developing Micra, said the device is placed in the right ventricle through the femoral vein.


Rocket ride

Through his work, Demmer has traveled all over the world, but one of his most exciting trips was to a flight facility in Virginia not very long ago.  A high school student in Nebraska came up with an idea for the Cubes in Space Program offered in partnership with NASA.  Small experiments in cubes are launched in a 36-foot-long NASA rocket.

The launch that carried a cube with Micra inside it took place on June 22.  During a ride 73 miles high, Micra was subjected to more than 20 times the force of gravity, plus vibrations worse than a paint shaker, temperatures reaching 140 degrees Fahrenheit, radiation from space, and a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.  Afterward, Demmer reported great news.  Micra was still functioning the way it was designed to perform.

The student from Nebraska, Shelbi Klingsporn, wants to be a physician's assistant.  Demmer suggested that might just be the beginning.

"Once you have shot something outside the Earth, it's hard to say the sky is the limit," he commented.


Quoted in Fortune

As for his own career, Demmer has been quoted in Fortune magazine and has been named to the Medical Technical Fellows at his company, which means he is now considered a mentor for younger engineers.

Demmer has suddenly realized he is no longer one of the newcomers.

"I was nominated because of my technical expertise and excellence by people I respect very much.  They were saying I now belong in their club," he said.  "Now I am one of the go-to people for information in a particular area."

Physicians see him for technical information about Micra.  He has been educating doctors about the technical aspects, and they have been educating him about the medical aspects.  Perhaps borrowing from his mother's experience as a longtime teacher in Buffalo, Wade tries to make the information he provides as interesting as he can.

"I make it more fun than the standard college lecture," he said.

Wade's mother is Barb Demmer, and his father is Mike Demmer, a former Buffalo City Council member.

Wade and his brother, Cole, both earned master's degrees from the University of Minnesota at the same time.  Cole works in marketing for the Keurig coffee brewing system company and lives in Boston.


Serves on city council

Now living in Coon Rapids with his wife, Stacee, and their three children, Lachlan, 10, Ruby, 8, and Felix, 1, Wade was elected to the Coon Rapids City Council in 2014.

Wade had been a Hall of Fame Award recipient at Buffalo High School.  Besides Odyssey of the Mind, his school activities included track and field, cross country, student council, an inventors' program, and Knowledge Bowl.

He has continued to be active in running.  In fact, he has run in three Boston Marathons, including the one in which a terrible bombing took place.

Through work, he has visited cities all over the U.S. and beyond.  Countries he has visited include: India, China, Australia, Israel, and several in Europe.  Wade mentioned he has also enjoyed traveling with his family on vacations.  Destinations have included Peru and Caribbean islands.


Next generation Micra

Wade and Stacee met in college when they were studying at Iowa St. University.  Stacee was from New Ulm, where they were married in 2002.

When Wade was considering a career path, he might have been influenced by the fact that his grandmother had a pacemaker.  He saw a future in writing bio-medical computer code.

Today, he has been promoted to a management position.  His office is in the impressive-looking Medtronic building in Mounds View.

"I will be the lead for our next generation of lead-less pacemakers," he said.

Creative thinking and problem solving, just like in Odyssey of the Mind when he was going to school in Buffalo, should continue to serve him well.



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