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.

Our first dialysis unit was big enough for just nine patients. As the need for dialysis has grown over the decades since, so have we. Our unique position as the first outpatient dialysis clinic has driven us to establish a museum dedicated to dialysis innovation as well as collect oral histories from many who can tell firsthand the story of Northwest Kidney Centers and the people and discoveries that shaped it.

Walk through our dialysis museum to get an in-depth look at dialysis over the last 60 years.

Our dialysis museum, opened in 2012 in honor of our 50th anniversary, highlights crucial moments in Northwest Kidney Centers’ history, dating back to the early days when an Admissions Committee determined who would receive dialysis — a scare resource at the time — and who would not. Its displays demonstrate the evolution of dialysis equipment over the years and identify the people who helped make it the organization it is today.

Learn more about our dialysis museum

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 Jo Ann 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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Our first 50 years

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


 

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).

Northwest Kidney Center adds a clinic in Bellevue, known as Lake Washington Kidney Center.

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 community dialysis, special care and training areas for home hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis.

Honored to have served the community for the past 50 years, we held a series of celebrations including our first annual gala to raise money for kidney research, and opening of a dialysis museum. This year we 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 by opening a clinic in Enumclaw, our 15th treatment location.

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.

We embarked on a course to Care Better, Grow Bigger, Perform Better and Grow Together.

Two clinics scheduled to open in Federal Way and one in Fife. The Fife clinic marks Northwest Kidney Centers’ entry into Pierce County.

Did you know?


Since 1964, we’ve trained people with kidney failure to give themselves dialysis at home; patients today can choose either hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis to do at home. Currently, 250 of our patients choose home dialysis, a great option for people seeking more independence and flexibility with their treatment schedule.

Find out more about home dialysis

We launched our free Living Well with Chronic Kidney Disease education program in 2008. Since then, the program has continued to grow; it now offers classes on treatment options, nutrition and home dialysis. In 2018 alone, more than 750 people attended Choices, our most popular class, which is about therapy options.

Learn more about our free classes for kidney patients

In 2008, together with UW Medicine, we opened the Kidney Research Institute. Since then, the institute has received more than $100 million in grant support and its investigators have published more than 1,000 peer-reviewed publications. About 1,100 Northwest Kidney Centers patients have signed up as potential research participants.

Learn more about our research

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.”

— Jane Pryor, CFRE
Vice President of Development
and Public Relations

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