While waiting for Adam on Valentines Day at Cafe 101, I picked up a copy of the LA Times. For some reason that day, I was drawn to the Obituaries section first (rather than the comics section of course) and stumbled upon this inspiring article
Kolff is arguably credited for the first artificial heart as is Paul Winchell. Nonetheless — ‘Great Minds’.
Kolff, known as the ‘father of artificial organs,’ is credited with building the first successful artificial heart, the Jarvik-7, and established the first blood bank in Europe.
By Thomas H. Maugh II
February 14, 2009
Dr. Willem Kolff, the Dutch physician and tinkerer who built the first kidney dialysis machine from cellophane, Ford auto parts and other scraps and in the process saved the lives of millions, died from natural causes Wednesday at a Philadelphia care center. The “father of artificial organs,” who also built the first successful artificial heart, was 97.
“Dr. Kolff was a pioneer in the truest sense of the word,” said Michael K. Young, president of the University of Utah, where Kolff concluded his career. “His groundbreaking work on the artificial kidney in the 1940s made him a household name and a hero to millions of people around the world who benefited from this life-saving technology.”
Willem Johan Kolff was born in Leiden, the Netherlands, on Feb. 14, 1911, the son of a doctor. Although his childhood goal was to become the director of a zoo, his father convinced him to study medicine instead, and he received his degree from Leiden University in 1938.
He was a staff physician at the University of Groningen in 1940 when Germany invaded the Netherlands. After the Jewish hospital director was replaced with a Nazi sympathizer, Kolff moved to a small hospital in Kampen, on the Zuider Zee, where he sat out the war.
Kolff aided the local resistance movement, providing medical “alibis” to help many escape detection. When the Germans attempted to take in one local resistance leader for questioning, Kolff withdrew two pints of blood from the man’s arm and had him drink it. Laboratory tests then showed that the man was anemic and had copious blood in his stool — signs of a severe ulcer.
The Germans did not question him because they assumed he would die shortly.
When the Germans invaded on May 19, 1940, Kolff happened to be at The Hague for a funeral. When he saw the German bombers, he excused himself from the ceremony and went to the city’s main hospital, where he volunteered to set up a blood bank.
With an armed escort, he drove through the city streets, dodging bombs and snipers and collecting bottles, tubing and all the other paraphernalia needed for storing blood. Within four days, he had established the first blood bank in Europe. It is still operating today.