Wearable pacemaker developer, Hawaii resident, dies at 94

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Earl Bakken, an electronics repairman who created the first wearable external pacemaker and co-founded one of the world’s largest medical device companies, Medtronic, has died. He was 94. Bakken, who also commercialized the first implantable pacemaker in 1960, died Sunday at his home in Hawaii, Medtronic said in a statement. It didn’t give a cause of death. Bakken and his brother-in-law, Palmer Hermundslie, formed Medtronic in 1949 and turned it from a struggling company they ran out of the Hermundlie family’s Minneapolis garage into a multinational medical technology powerhouse. Bakken, who led the company for 40 years, was fitted for his own pacemaker in 2001 and a replacement in 2009. Bakken and Hermundslie, who was married to the sister of Bakken’s wife at the time, formed Medtronic to repair and modify hospital equipment. The company mixed fixing TVs and selling other companies’ medical devices with its most important work: custom-made medical devices. In 1958, University of Minnesota heart surgeon Dr. C. Walton Lillehei asked Bakken to make a battery-powered pacemaker that could keep babies with irregular heartbeats alive. Until then, patients with irregular heartbeats had to plug their cumbersome external devices into wall outlets, limiting their movement and leaving them susceptible to power outages, according to the company. Bakken delivered his device to the university’s animal lab for testing and was stunned to see it attached to one of Lillehei’s pediatric patients the next day. Medtronic has 86,000 employees worldwide. Its operational headquarters are still in the Minneapolis area but a few years ago, it moved its corporate headquarters to Dublin, where it would benefit from Ireland’s lower corporate tax rate. Bakken is survived by his wife, Doris J. Bakken, his sister, several children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.