Medtronic co-founder gets special honor

Bakken and Bruininks
University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks, center, and Deborah Powell, Dean of the University of Minnesota Medical School, award the U's first ever honorary M.D. to Medtronic co-founder Earl Bakken in December, to mark the 50th anniversary of the first battery-powered, wearable external pacemaker.
Photo courtesy of Medtronic

There was a very rare ceremony Thursday at the University of Minnesota. President Robert Bruininks bestowed an honorary 'Doctor of Medicine' title on a man who is not a physician.

It is believed to be the first time such a high honor has been given by a major university in 45 years.

But Earl Bakken, inventor of the wearable pacemaker and co-founder of Medtronic, has changed the shape of medicine more than once in his life. By inventing the implantable medical device industry, he has aided millions of doctors and their patients in the business of healing.

Bakken statue
A statue of Earl Bakken stands in the lobby of the Medtronic Cardiac Rhythm Disease Management headquarters in Mounds View. Bakken now lives in Hawaii. In addition to a pacemaker, Bakken himself has an implanted stent and insulin pump.
MPR Photo/Tom Crann

From the company's beginning in a northeast Minneapolis garage, Bakken grew Medtronic into a business of more than 35,000 employees.

Bakken, 83, lives in Hawaii nowadays, but he returns to Medtronic's offices in Mounds View regularly to address new employees. He talks proudly about the pacemaker now implanted in his own chest, as well as the stent and insulin pump that are in there as well.

When MPR's Tom Crann sat down with Earl Bakken on Wednesday, Bakken was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and he brought to the table a leather doctor's satchel full of pacemakers old and new.

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