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Dr. C. Walton Lillehei, a prominent University of Minnesota surgeon, was exploring the use of electrical stimulation to control heart activity. Primitive pacemakers relied on external electrodes and bulky, unreliable power sources plugged into wall outlets. Lillehei was looking for an engineering solution to these limitations. He asked Bakken to build a battery-powered device small enough to be worn on a patient’s belt yet able to deliver a regularly paced current through a wire to the surface of the patient’s heart. Six weeks later Bakken had developed the world’s first reliable cardiac pacemaker. In 1984, the National Society of Professional Engineers named the cardiac pacemaker one of the ten outstanding engineering achievements of the last half of the 20th century. Under Bakken’s leadership Medtronic has become a world leader in the field of implantable medical devices for the treatment of cardiovascular and neurological disorders. Bakken also helped develop Medical Alley, a consortium of various manufacturers in Minnesota to develop and promote the area as a hotbed of medical innovation.

Earl Bakken

(1924 - ) Bakken is an electrical engineer and the developer of the first wearable external cardiac pacemaker, the device that produces electrical impulses to regulate the rhythm of a flagging heart. In 1949 Bakken and his brother-in-law set up shop in a Northeast Minneapolis garage and began repairing electrical equipment for local hospitals. The partnership was called Medtronic. First month earnings for the partnership totaled $8 for repair of a broken centrifuge. Bakken’s mother told him that he ought to learn how to fix those new-fangled television sets instead of fooling around with medical devices. Fortunately, for a multitude of heart patients, he didn’t listen. Medtronic would eventually become a Fortune 500 firm with worldwide operations.

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