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Medtech Mourns the Loss of Earl Bakken: Visionary, Humanist, Pioneer

Medtronic co-founder Earl Bakken, a pioneer in medical technology whose inventions impacted countless lives, died Sunday in Hawaii at age 94.

Medtronic co-founder Earl Bakken died Sunday in Hawaii at age 94. 

Medtronic plc

Thousands of patients, clinicians, and medtech colleagues took to Twitter on Monday to honor the legacy of Earl Bakken. The co-founder of Medtronic and inventor of the first wearable external pacemaker, Bakken died Sunday in Hawaii at age 94.

“All of us at Medtronic are saddened today by the news of Earl’s passing,” said Omar Ishrak, chairman and CEO of Medtronic. “Earl was a true pioneer in healthcare and his vision of using technology to help people still inspires us today. We are privileged to continue the work that he started over 60 years ago and we remain fully committed to all six tenets of the mission that he crafted so many years ago.”

Medtronic lowered the flags outside its operational headquarters in honor of Bakken and the company published a page on its website dedicated to Bakken and the company's humble beginnings. The company also asked Twitter followers to share their stories of how Bakken impacted their lives.

"A giant has fallen," former Medtronic CEO Bill George tweeted. "For 94 years Earl was a visionary, humanist, and pioneer. He not only invented the pacemaker but created [an] entire medical technology field. A believer in healing the whole person."

Bakken and his brother-in-law, Palmer Hermundslie, formed Medtronic in 1949 and turned it from a startup they ran out of a Minneapolis garage into the multinational medtech company it is today. Bakken led the company for 40 years, retiring as the company's chairman in 1989.

"Earl was a visionary and true nerd in the best sense," said Holly Gonzales, a cardiology fellow. "Responsible himself for saving multiple lives through technology designed in his garage in MN and indirectly the lives of millions. Comforted to know he passed in Hawaii after living his best life. RIP Earl Bakken."

"Today we mourn the passing of Medtronic co-founder Earl Bakken, a medtech pioneer whose generous, innovative spirit has helped save and improve millions of lives. His vision for a healthier world will continue to inspire health progress," said AdvaMed CEO Scott Whitaker.

In 1960, Bakken wrote a mission statement for Medtronic that remains intact today, word for word, the company noted. In part, it reads: “To contribute to human welfare by application of biomedical engineering in the research, design, manufacture, and sale of instruments or appliances that alleviate pain, restore health and extend life.”

The company said every Medtronic employee is given a medallion with that mission statement engraved on it.

"I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to spend time with and learn from Earl Bakken, who died today," tweeted Daniel Grossman, MD, an emergency physician and former Medtronic employee who launched the company's Medtronic Labs business. "It was an honor to be part of the team to carry on his legacy and uphold the mission he crafted at Medtronic."

"Because of his vision and desire to help humankind, Earl Bakken helped save my life before I was born," said Carrie Romero, an implantable cardiac defibrillator (ICD) patient in Nashville, TN. "The [technology] he developed for the pacemaker made way for the ICD that’s lived in my chest for 21 years."

In 1975, Bakken founded The Bakken Museum, a nonprofit library, museum, and education center in Minneapolis. The Bakken Museum is devoted to the history of electricity and magnetism and their uses in science and medicine.

In 1994, Bakken built a home in Hawaii, where he became chairman of the board of directors of the Five Mountain Medical Community as it developed the North Hawaii Community Hospital. He also helped to establish Tutu’s House, a community resource center promoting careers, education, and effective health outcomes, and the Kohala Center, which concerns itself with scientific resources and education. Other philanthropic ventures Bakken was involved with include: the Na Kalai Waa Moku O Hawaii, Friends of the Future, and the Imiloa: Astronomy Center of Hawaii.

In 2013, Medtronic Philanthropy launched The Bakken Invitation to honor people who received medical devices, and who made an impact on the lives of others, through service and volunteerism. Bakken, who in his later years became a medical device patient himself, was known for asking patients what they planned to do with their gift of “extra life.” Each year Bakken met with the honorees.

“Their stories are a powerful reminder that we can all give back, no matter our current situation," he said after meeting with honorees in 2014.

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