Dale Ballard, one of the pioneers of Utah's thriving medical device industry, sold the company that bears his name to tissue-manufacturing giant Kimberly-Clark Corp. Wednesday.

In a stock swap valued at $764 million, Ballard Medical Products was purchased by Kimberly-Clark. A Kimberly-Clark official said the purchase will complement its companies developing professional health-care products, including disposable surgical gowns and masks.Ballard Medical Products, which employs 1,000 people at its Draper facility, makes disposable products such as respiratory suction catheters and defibrillator pads. Ballard sells more than 80 percent of all closed suction catheters used in U.S. hospitals. The products help keep airways clear for patients on ventilators.

The news for the company employees brought mixed reactions.

"Sure there is always uncertainty, but there is excitement about the great potential this brings," said Martin Chamberlain, Ballard vice president of regulator affairs.

Tina Barry, vice president of Kimberly-Clark corporate communications, said that the firm hopes to retain Ballard's management and hourly work force at the Draper site and at another manufacturing plant in Pocatello, Idaho.

She also hopes for growth for the Ballard operations, which had yearly sales ending Sept. 30 of $150 million. Kimberly-Clark said the acquisition will increase the size of its medical products by about 40 percent outside the United States.

In all, Barry predicts company sales in the health-care arena to reach $700 million. That's still a fraction of the company's $12.5 billion in sales in 1997. Along with diapers, the company manufactures Kleenex-brand tissue, feminine hygiene products, incontinence protection and paper towels.

This will be the second manufacturing foray for Kimberly-Clark in Utah. The company also operates a diaper-production plant with 600 employees in Ogden.

"The only connection between the two is that we have had a presence in Utah and know of the high caliber of the Utah work force. We are happy to have another 1,000 employees in Utah," Barry said.

Kimberly-Clark will pay $25 a share for each of Ballard's 30.5 million shares, a 1.8 percent premium over Ballard's share price of 24-9/16 Tuesday.

A native of Draper, Ballard Medical Products founder Dale Ballard has had a long history with the medical device industry in Utah. He and James Sorenson started Deseret Pharmaceutical in 1956. After a couple of years the two parted ways and Sorenson started his own successful medical device business. Deseret Pharmaceutical was sold to pharmaceutical giant Warner Lambert in 1976, according to Chamberlain.

Ballard started Ballard Medical Products in 1978, eventually moving from strictly research and development to manufacturing in 1983 with its first public stock offering.

"He (Ballard) is a genius at entrepreneurial start-up companies," Chamberlain said.

According to a recent study by the Utah Life Science Association, there are 76 medical device manufacturers in the state of Utah. Many can trace their roots to Ballard's and Sorenson's early operations.

Dallas-based Kimberly-Clark said the transaction, which will be tax-free to shareholders, is expected to be completed in early 1999. Barry expects easy federal regulatory approval because the two companies have very little overlap of products.

The buyout comes as Kimberly-Clark seeks to reposition itself.

"Health-care is a fast-growing business, with the aging of America," said analyst Stephen Keane at Robert W. Baird & Co., who rates the stock as a "strong buy."

Last December, Kimberly-Clark acquired Tecnol Medical Products Inc., the largest maker of surgical face masks, for about $423 million in stock.

And earlier this month, the company said its health-care and non-woven goods units will be organized into one of the company's three global businesses, giving it a higher profile. The other businesses are tissues, which include Kleenex and Scott towels and personal-care products, such as Huggies diapers.

The reorganization along product lines, rather than geographic regions, is intended to boost sales and speed the introduction of products worldwide.

Kimberly-Clark has been hurt by recessions in Asia and its own difficulties in Europe that include loss of market share to Procter & Gamble Co. in the diaper business. Also detrimental are tissue prices and snags with product introductions.

Bloomberg Business News contributed to this report.