Off beat: Locally raised surgeon followed in his father's heartbeat

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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When we ran a medical technology story recently, the piece from the Minneapolis Star Tribune had an unexpected Vancouver link.

Dr. Eric Irwin, a vascular surgeon in Minnesota, was one of the people interviewed about a new device for lowering blood pressure.

His mother, Earline Irwin, read the story and called to tell us that he was a 1977 graduate of Hudson's Bay High School.

During the brief conversation, she added a bit of family background that was an interesting story on its own. Her husband had suffered a massive heart attack while Eric was an undergraduate in college, and she felt that Elvin Irwin's medical problems helped influence the course of their son's medical career.

"That played a role," Eric Irwin concurred in a phone conversation from the Twin Cities.

A few years later, when Eric was refining his career plans, his father had another health setback.

"I was in residency, considering cardiovascular disease, and he had some additional surgical needs," Eric Irwin said.

Professionally speaking, "I went inside the chest," said Irwin, a surgeon at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale.

Since then, he's also gotten involved in the research side of those issues.

"It's exciting to be a part of that, helping patients with congestive heart failure," he said. "That's the sort of thing my dad had.

"He lived from 1979 to 2006 with significant cardiac disease, benefiting from medical advances," Eric Irwin said.

Elvin Irwin was 73 when he died.

"Losing my father was devastating," Dr. Irwin said. "But we had 27 years to be best friends after his first heart attack, which is not something a lot of people get."

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.