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If you like Willem Kolff's story, you might also like:
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Francis Collins,
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Willem Kolff
Willem Kolff
Profile of Willem Kolff Biography of Willem Kolff Interview with Willem Kolff Willem Kolff Photo Gallery

Willem Kolff Profile

Pioneer of Artificial Organs

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  Willem Kolff

"I wanted to make an artificial kidney that would save people. I was convinced that I could do it, and I clung to it until it was done."

When Willem Johan Kolff began work on the artificial kidney, few medical professionals believed such a thing was possible. To draw a patient's blood, cleanse it of toxins, and return it to the patient, seemed beyond the expertise of the most sophisticated medical centers. Dr. Kolff had no great resources to draw on. He was the sole internist in a small-town hospital in the middle of an occupied country during wartime. All materials were in short supply and local manufacturers were forbidden to do business with anyone but the occupying army. The first 15 patients to receive the treatment failed to recover, but Dr. Kolff persevered. The dialysis treatment he pioneered has saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, all over the world.

Dr. Kolff went on to design the heart-lung machine that made open-heart surgery possible. He has pioneered artificial eyes, ears and arms, and for 25 years led the effort to develop the artificial heart. In 1982, a heart designed under his supervision was successfully implanted in Barney Clark, an event that captured the imagination of the world.

Willem Kolff Profile Photo

William C. DeVries, M.D. Profile
Artificial Heart Surgeon

Inducted into the Academy in 1983

The artificial heart developed by Dr. Willem Kolff was first implanted into a human patient by Dr. William C. DeVries. After receiving his medical degree from the University of Utah in 1970, DeVries interned at the Duke University Medical Center. He remained at Duke from 1971 to 1979 as resident in cardiovascular and thoracic surgery.

Dr. DeVries was assistant professor of surgery at the University of Utah until 1984, serving simultaneously as Chairman of the division of cardiovascular and thoracic surgery and chief of thoracic surgery at the Salt Lake veterans hospital. During this period he performed the historic artificial heart surgery, after first practicing the procedure on 200 laboratory animals and 20 human cadavers. He later served as director of the artificial heart project of the Humana Hospital Audubon in Louisville, Kentucky.

In 2000, Dr. DeVries joined the United States Army Reserve as a lieutenant colonel. At age 57, he was one of the oldest people ever to complete the Officer Basic Course. He was stationed for several years at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C., teaching surgery. He continues to practice in the Washington area. His memories and observations are interspersed throughout our interview with Willem Kolff.

This page last revised on Sep 01, 2011 14:21 EDT
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