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Heart & Kidney Machine Doctor Dies

Doctor who invented kidney & heart machine dies in the US aged 97

Dr. Willem J. Kolff, the resourceful Dutch physician who invented the first artificial kidney in a rural hospital during World War II, using sausage casings and then went on to build the first artificial heart, died of natural causes on Wednesday 11th February, 2009, at his home in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. Dr. Kolff, whose work has been credited with saving million of lives, was 97.
Dr. Kolff, who emigrated to the United States in 1950, was widely regarded as the father of artificial organs, having proved that biomedical engineers could build all sorts of artificial organs for keeping patients alive. His artificial kidney work evolved into the modern dialysis machines for cleansing the blood of people whose kidneys have failed, preserving countless lives. His membrane oxygenator, which provided a way to add oxygen to blood as it passed through a machine, is still used in heart-lung designs, as a bridge to transplantation in patients with heart failure.

As a young physician at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands in 1938, Dr. Kolff watched a young man die a slow, agonising death from temporary kidney failure. He reasoned that if he could find a way to remove the toxic waste products that build up in the blood of such patients, he could keep them alive until their kidneys rebounded.

In May 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands. Rather than co- operate with Nazi sympathisers put in charge at Groningen, Dr. Kolff moved to a small hospital in Kampen, on the Zuider Zee (now called the Ijsselmeer), to wait out the war. While there, he set up Europe’s first blood bank and saved more than 800 people from Nazi labour camps by hiding them in his hospital. And he continued to work on the artificial kidney.
© Sandra Blakeslee, New York Times

A further article on Dr. Kolff entitled “Dialysing for Life” in the Spring issue of “Support” Magazine (page 45) available on www.ika.ie


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