Dr. Henry Tenckhoff passed away this month at the age of 86. He has the rightful claim to be the “father of chronic peritoneal dialysis.”

Tenckhoff was born in 1930 in Bergisch Gladbach, Germany. He received his medical degree in 1955 from the University of Koln Medical School in Koln, Germany. Recruited by Dr. Belding Scribner, Tenckhoff came to the University of Washington in 1964, and took over the peritoneal dialysis program a few years later.

In 1968 he developed the first successful indwelling peritoneal dialysis catheter, known as the “Tenckhoff catheter,” that could remain in the abdomen permanently.

Unlike hemodialysis, where the blood is filtered outside the body, peritoneal dialysis is an alternative way to remove waste products from blood through the blood vessels in the abdominal lining (peritoneum).

Before Tenckhoff, the procedure was performed for nearly 40 years with a new catheter inserted for every treatment.

Dr. Henry Tenckhoff. Photo credit: ISPD.
Dr. Henry Tenckhoff

“For each dialysis we had to put a new tube in the abdomen, which was kind of cumbersome,” Tenckhoff said in an interview in 2009.

“We had only three research beds and we couldn’t get any more; so, we had to take the patients home and put a catheter into their abdomen at home.

At the end of dialysis, initially I pulled the catheter out, and then we taught the patients to pull the catheter out and dress their wounds.”

Seattle has long been the place for kidney research. In 1960, Scribner and colleagues developed a blood access device for hemodialysis called the Scribner shunt, providing a lifeline to patients with kidney failure.

Dr. Rajnish Mehrotra, nephrology section head at Harborview Medical Center, is currently one of the leading experts nationally and internationally on peritoneal dialysis.  He studies outcomes in patients using both center and home dialysis.

"The Tenckhoff catheter," says Mehrotra, “remains the gold standard for peritoneal dialysis catheters to date and 50 years later remains the most widely used catheter worldwide.”