Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Dr. Robert Jarvik on Dr. Willem Kolff

Someone just told me about this tribute to my cousin's mentor in Time Magazine:

By Dr. Robert Jarvik
Thursday, Feb. 19, 2009

In 1971, after my first two years at medical school, Dr. Willem Kolff, who died Feb. 11 at 97, hired me to work on the artificial-heart project at the University of Utah. On my first day, he instructed me to create a new heart design that would keep an animal alive longer than any earlier models had.

Previous designs had failed, he explained, because they did not fit anatomically. And that was all he said. He told me what to do but not how to do it. That was Dr. Kolff's forte: finding enthusiastic people, laying out his visions and then leaving them to their own devices.

Dr. Kolff, who was one of the founders of the American Society for Artificial Internal Organs, encouraged scores of people to turn their attention to creating mechanical hearts, electronic devices that restore hearing and vision, artificial arms and more. He believed that bioengineering could one day provide a substitute for almost every organ in the body.

What could not be replaced, however, was Dr. Kolff himself, who possessed energy, Old World charm and a grand, guiding vision. I count myself among the many inventors, engineers and doctors who worked with him and will never forget his indomitable spirit.

Jarvik developed the first permanent total artificial heart
More on Dr. Kolff at this link to a Stanford University website.