Dialysis Museum

Our dialysis museum, located in Seattle, showcases iconic photos and artifacts as well as dialysis machines and equipment used at Northwest Kidney Centers and throughout the United States in the last 50 years.

A look back to the early days

At Northwest Kidney Centers, we are proud of our heritage as the first organization in the world founded with dialysis as its mission. We opened our museum in 2012 in celebration of our 50th anniversary. The museum is home to more than a dozen dialysis machines, a 22-foot timeline and a gallery of photos of people who have influenced kidney treatment.

The museum shows the growth of our organization, and the strong roots of kidney therapy in Seattle. We started in 1962 with one facility with three beds. Today, about 400,000 people are on dialysis in the United States alone.

 

Where it all began

It was 1960 when Dr. Belding Scribner and his colleagues at University of Washington developed the Scribner shunt, a device made of Teflon that could link an artery and a vein. This relatively simple device was revolutionary – it made long-term dialysis possible for the first time. Chronic kidney failure was no longer a death sentence. Two years later, Northwest Kidney Centers was founded to bring the new treatment to patients in the community.

Read more about our storied history, or take a stroll through the dialysis museum yourself. There you’ll find many of the machines that made medical history.

 

Featured items

In the 1960s, dialysis meant a machine the size of a small refrigerator. In fact, Seattle’s first machines were built by a manufacturer of ice cream machines! Today, the smallest dialysis machine is about the size of a toaster oven.

More than a dozen machines are on display in the museum. The Mini Monster, for example, was created in 1964 at the University of Washington for the world’s first home dialysis patient. It became the prototype for nearly all single-patient hemodialysis machines in use today.

A 22-foot timeline details milestones in Northwest Kidney Centers’ history, and includes artifacts like the brass nameplate from the earliest building and an original Scribner shunt.

Machines, photos and patient stories help tell the history of life-sustaining treatments in dialysis centers as well as home dialysis, a therapy that often leads to better outcomes for people with kidney failure.

Then and now: technology through the years

Here’s a closer look at some of the iconic machines in our dialysis museum in Seattle.

  • Kolff-Brigham rotating drum kidney. Created in 1948 by Dr. Willem “Pim” Kolff, this was the world’s first practical dialysis machine. Using filters made of sausage casings, it provided dialysis for people with acute kidney failure, but there still was no treatment for chronic kidney failure. The Scribner shunt changed that in 1960.
  • Mini-I and Mini-II. The Mini-I was based on the Monster, a 1963 machine that made dialysis solution that was stored in 100-gallon steel tanks from Sweden Freezer, an ice cream company. The Mini-II, a refined version, was designed a few months later by four innovators on an airplane ride to a medical conference. It became the first commercial home dialysis machine.
  • Drake-Willock dialysis machine. Nephrologist Dr. Richard Drake and design engineer Charles Bernard Willock made this machine in the basement of Willock’s Oregon home in the mid-1960s.
  • Suitcase kidney. Developed by Dr. Eli Friedman and James T. Hutchisson in New York in 1976, this lightweight machine allowed patients to travel. Northwest Kidney Center patients were the first outside New York to use it. Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos is said to have secretly used a machine like this.
  • Boen home peritoneal dialysis cycler. Used in the 1960s, this machine includes a 40-liter bottle that was sterilized and filled with dialysate at the hospital, then delivered to the patient’s home. For each treatment, a physician made a house call to make a puncture for access.

Dialysis through the years

Visitors see machines, photos from Northwest Kidney Centers' first 50 years


PD machines dialysis museum

Peritoneal dialysis machines, including Boen PD cycler (left).

Dialysis museum visitors

In addition to seeing early dialysis machines, visitors can read stories about our founders and earliest patients.

Dialysis museum main gallery

Machines from the 1940s to present day.

Come visit

See history firsthand – we offer free, guided tours of the dialysis museum by appointment. Tours are often led by longtime Northwest Kidney Centers staff members, who add their own personal stories of dialysis through the years. Call 206-720-3713 to make an appointment or email museum@nwkidney.org.

 

Dr. Suhail Ahmad, retired chief medical officer, and Jack Cole, the world's first dialysis technician, look at photos in the museum's main gallery.