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Journalist writes biography on artificial organs’ pioneer

‘Doctor Kolff, Artist in Heart and Kidneys’

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

KAMPEN - “I am sympathetic.” With these three, hand-written words in a faxed message to journalist Herman Broers, Dutch American Dr. Willem Kolff (92) last year gave his approval for a biography of the erstwhile Kampen medical innovator. Recently, a first copy of the book was presented to Kolff’s long-time assistant Dr. Bob van Noordwijk.

The biography, the first for the Netherlands as well as in the U.S., carries a title that has a double meaning in the Dutch language, but regretably loses much of its punch in a literal English translation. Kunstenaar in hart en nieren translates as ‘artist in heart and kidneys’ and alludes to Kolff’s invention of the kidney dialysis machine and his involvment in developing the first artificial heart. In hart en nieren also is a Dutch expression equivalent to ‘in heart and soul’ suggesting a total commitment to something.

Moved to the U.S. in 1950

Broers started with his project when he realized that Leiden-born Dr. Willem Johan Kolff, and his accomplishments, largely remain unknown in his native country.

Educated at the universities of Leiden and Groningen, Kolff became a specialist in internal medicine in Kampen in 1941. There, he developed the artificial kidney which was first put to use in 1943. He became a Doctor of Medicine in 1946, after presenting a dissertation on the artificial organ. After a stint as Professor at the Leiden University, Kolff settled in the U.S., becoming Professor of Clinical Research at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and the University of Utah. Kolff, recently was back in the Netherlands to present a prestigeous award to his assistant Van Noordwijk. Kolff became a U.S. citizen in 1956.