‘Father of Artificial Organs’ dies at 97. Three days before his birthday February 14, 1911 — Valentines.

Dr. Willem KolffWhile 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.

FULL ARTICLE HERE: http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-me-willem-kolff14-2009feb14,0,5182029.story

From the Los Angeles Times

One thought on “‘Father of Artificial Organs’ dies at 97. Three days before his birthday February 14, 1911 — Valentines.

  1. Love and Death

    Long ago, before the mists of the modern world swirled like blinding snow or earth-hung fog around the world, there was darkness. Darkness inside and outside the human eyes. Perhaps we were banished from where we were meant to be or perhaps we had just awakened from a very good dream to see the darkness all around us. In this time many great thinkers walked around and guessed at the nature of the world. They were only guesses, but I suppose in some way, they had it closer than we do today. You see, sometimes if you ignore the facts, you come a little closer to the truth.

    On the rocky hills of Greece walked a man by the name of Empedocles. He believed that the four elements (water, air, fire, and earth) lived in a constant battle of strife and love to form chaos and order. Love and strife, order and chaos; this is the strange brew that makes up our lives. Each day we die just a little more, is it so bad? We are rejected by a lover, was it worth the risk? We obey order and chaos mixed with a little love and strife; and we end up with a human life; infant, child, adult, elder, dead.

    The heart is just an organ that pumps blood throughout the body. Yet, to the human it is so much more. Change words around. (Words being the only other thing known to be real to human beings.) But do, change the words around so as to clarify their meaning. Blood is life. Blood is water and air and warm and it gives life to this clay. Blood is and oddity, worthless by itself, but to the human being in the right context it means everything.

    So when a Dutch doctor went around, dodging bombshells and bullets; weathering the chaos like some Greek hero before the modern mists relegated them to annals of dead pages of literature; we see blood pumped into the old primordial myths and reconstituted with the drive of the scientific mind. Oh, the ancients didn’t have much use for the brain. It was just vestigial organ. Life comes before thought. It is like that in all of creation, except for the rare exception of creation itself where a thought moved over the chaos and brought order, and worlds, and blood.

    This is what I think of when I read this article. I think of all the blood and toil and grittiness. I think of how it doesn’t mean anything without human beings saying it means something. A world without humanity and what it means to be human is meaningless.

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