Video: The story of a pioneering pacemaker

MINNEAPOLIS — The founder of Medtronic, Earl Bakken, told his story of developing one of the first battery-backed, electronic pacemakers in a dinner talk at the annual conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBC ’09) here Thursday (September 3).

In the first of two videos, Bakken talks about his early career leading up to the design of the pacemaker in 1958.

Bakken was fascinated with electricity and gadgets as a young man, designing for fun an early precursor to the Taser and a device he called a Kiss-o-Meter. After graduating from the University of Minnesota with an EE degree, he struggled to make ends meet in a small company that repaired medical equipment. To make ends meet the company sold Zenith radios and TVs on the side.

In a second video, he shows a model of his first external pacemaker made at the request of a local doctor.

The first device was used as an external unit for local children who underwent heart surgery. Bakken said he quickly learned he needed to design follow-on devices with protected knobs and switches so the curious child-patients would not turn the pacemakers off.

Today a Medtronic device is implanted in a patient about every five seconds, he said. Bakken himself wears three Medtronic devices—a pacemaker, an insulin pump and two stents.

An audience of about 2,000 bioengineers gave Bakken a standing ovation following the talk.

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