Surgical instruments developer Brigid Ann Scanlan Eiynck dies at age 69
For decades, Scanlan International in St. Paul has helped surgeons do their work by manufacturing instruments that doctors use in the operating room.
Brigid Ann Scanlan Eiynck started working in the family business in the 1970s, eventually collaborating with physicians to develop tools used in surgeries of the heart and chest.
The family business has always prided itself on developing good working relationships with doctors, said company President Tim Scanlan, and Eiynck was a big part of creating those connections during her 42-year career.
Eiynck also made it a priority to help women physicians break into the field of what’s called cardiothoracic surgery through a mix of personal support, friendly mentoring and company-funded education opportunities.
Eiynck, 69, of St. Paul died in August due to complications of myelofibrosis. With her passing, a physicians group called Women in Thoracic Surgery plans to name a scholarship in Eiynck’s honor and will dedicate a forthcoming newsletter in her memory, said Dr. Shanda Blackmon, a professor of surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.
“Brigid was an inspiration, especially to young women who were interested in a career in cardiothoracic surgery,” Blackmon said. “She was very much a guide to most of us.”
Brigid Ann Scanlan was born in St. Paul and grew up in a family with nine children. She graduated from Our Lady of Peace in St. Paul and attended Loretto Heights College in Denver. She married Dennis Jerome Eiynck in 1971 and had two children.
All nine of the Scanlan siblings worked in the family business at one time or another, Tim Scanlan said. Eiynck worked part-time at first and ultimately made the work her primary vocation. Her pride in the family business comes through in a 2014 video interview posted on CTSnet.org, a website for cardiothoracic surgeons.
“Our family is in the business, but our whole company is a family,” she said. “It’s not about blood. It’s about who has the dream, who has the passion and the drive. ... It’s our baby, and we love it.”
Dr. W. Randolph Chitwood, Jr., said he worked with Eiynck and Scanlan Industries to develop several instruments, including a clamp that made it possible to perform minimally invasive surgeries to replace the mitral valve of the heart. He recalled sketching the idea in 1994 while sitting in a cafeteria, and then sending it off to Eiynck for feedback.
“She took it to the engineers and came back and said: We can do this,” said Chitwood, who is an emeritus professor at East Carolina University. “She understood that these instruments were going to actually help patients. It wasn’t just a business. It was a thoughtful passion of hers to make people better.”
During the first 20 years or so with the company, Eiynck regularly worked with surgeons on their ideas as well as the artisan manufacturers who make the instruments, Scanlan said. Her more recent work involved providing instruments for charitable missions overseas, plus promoting the cause of more women in surgery.
Historically, most cardiothoracic surgeons have been men, said Blackmon, the Mayo Clinic surgeon. But things are getting much better now for women in the field, Blackmon said, with the help of people like Eiynck. As an example, Blackmon credited a leading surgical society with encouraging a recent survey that looked at gender bias and sexual harassment “so we could make the environment better for women.”
In addition to her husband and children, Eiynck is survived by seven brothers and sisters, four grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews. Services have been held.