Our History

As the world’s first dialysis organization, we’ve led the way for kidney disease treatment and research since 1962.

For more than half a century, we’ve worked to improve the lives of people with kidney disease.

We began as a small dialysis unit — big enough for just nine patients — and have become the largest dialysis provider in the Puget Sound region. We now serve more than 1,500 patients in our clinics, at home and in local hospitals.

Read more about us

A patient undergoes a dialysis treatment in the 1960s.

An oral history of Northwest Kidney Centers

Many talented and dedicated people have helped shape our organization since it was founded in 1962. Watch a series of short videos to hear from some of them, including JoAnn Albers, Northwest Kidney Centers’ first dialysis nurse, and Jack Cole, the dialysis laboratory manager who worked with Dr. Belding Scribner to fine-tune the Scribner shunt — the device that made maintenance dialysis possible — back in the early 1960s.

Watch our oral history video series

Read Dr. Christopher Blagg’s book about the early days of dialysis in Seattle

Before 1960, kidney failure was a death sentence. Then an invention by a University of Washington professor turned it into a manageable health condition, and the Seattle community founded a unique organization to bring maintenance dialysis to the world for the first time. Dr. Christopher Blagg was well acquainted with the pioneering physicians, scientists and patients. He led Northwest Kidney Centers for nearly 30 years. Read his definitive history, From Miracle to Mainstream: creating the world’s first dialysis organization.

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Celebrating 50 years

See how we revolutionized treatment and transformed lives in our first 50 years.


 

Read and listen to stories about our past


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Read more about our earliest days in “A History of Northwest Kidney Centers, Part 1” by Dr. Christopher Blagg, Northwest Kidney Centers executive director emeritus. Learn about the development of the Scribner Shunt, the device created by a team of innovators at University of Washington that made long-term dialysis possible, our first patients and the
introduction of home dialysis.

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As the first out-of-hospital dialysis center, Northwest Kidney Centers pioneered the way dialysis is provided. It’s no surprise, then, that some of our leaders are considered experts in kidney treatment history. Listen to interviews from Dr. Christopher Blagg, executive director emeritus, and Jack Cole, the world’s first dialysis technician, as well as many others conducted by the Nephrology Oral History project.

Did you know?


Our kidney transplant rate is 80% higher than the national average.

Find out more about kidney transplants

17% of our patients give themselves dialysis at home. That’s about twice the national rate.

Find out the benefits of home dialysis

About 20% of our patients participate in studies conducted by our Kidney Research Institute.

Find out more about our research

Through the years

Chronic kidney failure was once a fatal disease, in every case. Dr. Belding Scribner of the University of Washington developed the Scribner shunt — tubes placed in a forearm artery and vein — that made long-term, repeated dialysis possible.

With the help of Dr. James Haviland, president of the King County Medical Society, and the Seattle Area Hospital Council, Dr. Scribner established a community-supported outpatient dialysis center. It was funded by the John A. Hartford Foundation, the U.S. Public Health Service and other sources.

The Seattle Artificial Kidney Center opened on Jan. 9, 1962 as the world’s first out-of-hospital dialysis treatment center. In the basement of Eklind Hall, the nurses’ residence for Swedish Hospital, the center contained three beds, allowing up to nine patients to receive dialysis treatments overnight twice a week.

To this day, we remain one of very few community-based, nonprofit dialysis providers in the country.

In 1964, the center expanded to 10 stations serving 47 patients — growth that led to financial strain. In response, Dr. Scribner and his team at the University of Washington developed home hemodialysis, which is much less expensive than in-center dialysis.

Since we opened our home hemodialysis training and support program, thousands of patients have given themselves dialysis treatments safely and successfully at home. The program continually ranks among the largest home dialysis programs in the United States, and it’s been a model for home programs across the globe.

Pioneering researchers at the University of Washington, Dr. Fred Boen and Dr. Henry Tenckhoff, developed peritoneal dialysis as an alternate treatment.

With patients traveling from all parts of Western Washington and from Alaska, we changed our name to reflect this growing patient base.

Using newly available federal funds, we set up the Northwest Organ Procurement Agency to serve Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. Only the second such regional organization in the country, the program provided kidneys to transplant programs at the UW Medical Center, Swedish Medical Center, Virginia Mason Hospital and Children’s Hospital.

In 1973, Congress made almost all patients with end-stage renal diseases (ESRD) eligible for Medicare. This additional support, together with private insurance, the State Kidney Disease Program, and Medicaid, helped our organization become financially stable.

As part of our ongoing commitment to patient care, we started offering continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis (CAPD) and later automated peritoneal dialysis (APD).

In November 1982, we consolidated our services at 700 Broadway, now called Haviland Pavilion and home to our Broadway dialysis facility.

Our hospital services program that provides acute dialysis and related treatments in many Seattle hospitals was also headquartered in the building.

Together with the Puget Sound Blood Center and the University of Washington Department of Orthopedics, we jointly founded the Northwest Tissue Center in 1988. Housed at the blood center, the tissue center provided human bone, tendons, skin and other tissues for transplantation.

We were the first site chosen for human studies on erythropoietin (EPO), a hormone genetically engineered by Amgen, Inc. EPO is produced in healthy kidneys to stimulate red blood cell production. Most dialysis patients are anemic because their diseased kidneys make very little EPO, thus injections of EPO treat this anemia and improve patient wellbeing and quality of life. The Federal Food and Drug Administration approved the use of EPO in June 1989.

We became the lead center in studies for FDA approval of the Aksys PHD System for more frequent — five or more times a week — hemodialysis. This technique was shown to provide much better patient survival than conventional three-times-a-week in-center dialysis.

The Aksys Company went bankrupt, but by that time NxStage had also developed a device for more frequent dialysis. The NxStage line remains in use today and Northwest Kidney Centers still has one of the largest home hemodialysis programs, as well as one of the largest peritoneal dialysis programs, in the country.

Together with the University of Washington, we created two new ways to conduct more kidney research:

  • The Kidney Research Institute (KRI). This institute aims to be a leading clinical research endeavor with investigators focused on early detection, prevention and treatment of kidney disease and its complications.
  • The Joseph W. Eschbach Endowed Chair in Kidney Research. This position, awarded to the director of the Kidney Research Institute, was created in honor of UW Medicine alumnus Joseph W. Eschbach Jr., M.D, who conducted the EPO trials. Dr. Jonathan Himmelfarb had been appointed to the chair and named the first director of the Kidney Research Institute shortly before Dr. Eschbach’s death in 2007.

Our Kent Kidney Center opened the same year, offering community and special care dialysis service to south King County patients. For the first time in our history, special care was available at a site outside of downtown Seattle.

The Seattle Kidney Center at 15th and Cherry began admitting patients on June 1, bringing our total number of dialysis centers to 14. The three-story building houses a community dialysis center, special care unit and training areas for home hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis.

Honored to have been able to serve the Pacific Northwest community for the past 50 years, we held a series of events to celebrate: our first annual gala to raise money for kidney research, opened a dialysis museum and gallery, and bestowed our highest honor — the Clyde Shields Award — on all Northwest Kidney Centers patients.

We brought dialysis care closer to home for residents of southeast King County with the opening of a new clinic in Enumclaw.

We replaced an existing dialysis center with a new 17,000-square-foot facility that houses community dialysis, home dialysis training and a community education center.

Looking to the future

“We continue to broaden our services and deepen them to support the optimal health, quality of life and independence of people with kidney disease.”

— Joyce F. Jackson, President and CEO

 

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