Robin Eady came to Seattle 47 years ago to participate in a radical new dialysis treatment. Today, he is still alive and well.
In 1963, a young Robin Eady arrived in Seattle for a revolutionary medical treatment. He was so weak from failing kidneys — he was expected to die — that he was rushed to Seattle’s kidney center.
“I could barely get my head off the pillow,” said Eady, then 21, who was a medical student from England.
On Sunday, the 69-year-old returned as a renowned dermatologist from London — this time, on his own feet and against all odds — as the world’s longest-surviving person with kidney failure.
He was awarded the Northwest Kidney Centers’ annual Clyde Shields Distinguished Service Award for the contributions he has made to the welfare of kidney patients.
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It was all but certain that Eady would die when his kidneys began to fail — excess fluids began collecting in his bloodstream, which kidneys are supposed to prevent from happening. But in 1962, his mother spotted an article in Life magazine that would change his fate.
The article described a groundbreaking technology that allowed patients to receive continuous dialysis, which serves as an artificial replacement for the kidneys. Previously, the process was so painful and cumbersome that patients typically received only a few treatments before the body shut down.
The new process was invented by University of Washington School of Medicine professor Belding Scribner, who along with two other doctors invented a Teflon tube called a shunt that lets patients get ongoing dialysis without replacing the tube every time.
“My parents were already devastated because my younger sister had died in a plane crash eight years before, and now their only son was dying,” Eady said.
The treatment was available only in Seattle, and there was space only for a handful of patients.
Eady’s parents were so determined to get their son into the Seattle kidney center that they struck a deal with Scribner, the doctor in charge: “I’d get treated here, learn about the kidney machine, and go up to Canada to be a machine technician,” Eady said.
Eady was among the first 13 patients to be treated with long-term dialysis. He continued dialysis treatment for more than two decades before undergoing a kidney transplant in 1987.
Eady, who has written and spoken extensively about kidney treatment, said it’s possible to live a full life with a chronic disease.
In the 1960s, Seattle was a pioneer in kidney treatment because “it had a lot of innovative people, even then,” Eady said.
For at least 10 years after the invention of the Scribner shunt, “people were coming to Seattle from all over the world to get treated,” said Christopher Blagg, a British doctor specializing in dialysis and a student of Scribner’s in the 1960s. “The Japanese came in bus loads.”
Former Microsoft executive and dialysis patient Glenda Roberts, who came to hear Eady speak on Sunday, said she was “inspired” by the Englishman’s story.
“It’s very encouraging to hear there are people who have been on dialysis for years and eventually got a transplant,” said Roberts, who is on a waiting list for a kidney transplant. “He’s an example that when the function of your kidney fails, it’s not the end of life.”
Jill Kimball: 206-464-2136 or firstname.lastname@example.org