Stories about: dialysis

From math major to transplant pioneer: An interview with William Harmon, MD

William Harmon MD
William Harmon, MD, c. 1996

William Harmon, MD, a pioneer in pediatric dialysis and kidney transplantation, passed away on May 29, 2016 after 45 years at Boston Children’s Hospital. He was 72 years old. Starting as an intern in 1971, the year the hospital performed its first kidney transplant, he worked his way up to Nephrologist-in-Chief, a position he held for 25 years.

Harmon was passionate about caring for children with end-stage renal disease (ESRD), pioneering techniques and devices to adapt hemodialysis to infants and young children. He helped get NIH support for child-specific transplant research and led multiple clinical trials of treatment protocols to help children not only tolerate their transplants, but thrive. He also worked to ensure that government guidelines and legislation on ESRD and kidney transplant gave priority to children.

Harmon was the first chair of the pediatric committee of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) and the first pediatrician to chair the New England Organ Bank’s Board of Directors. He was passionate about teaching, training more than 65 pediatric nephrology fellows.

Below are lightly edited excerpts from interviews with Harmon, most recently in 2014.

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Accessible and affordable dialysis for children in developing countries


Children living outside industrialized nations have limited access to health care, and many children with severe kidney dysfunction do not have access to dialysis. Some developing countries have access to manual peritoneal dialysis, which requires the placement of a catheter into the abdominal cavity every one to two hours, 10 hours per day. But supplies are expensive, and many countries lack the infrastructure needed to get large quantities of dialysis fluid to children’s homes.

At the recent 2015 Boston Children’s Hospital Global Pediatric Innovation Summit + Awards, pediatric nephrologist Sara Jandeska, MD, of Rush Children’s Hospital in Chicago, pitched a portable, affordable solution: providing just the dialysis salts.

See more posts and videos from the Global Pediatric Innovation Summit.

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Test licensed for devastating kidney disease

A glomerulus (Gray's Anatomy)

Focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) is the second leading cause of kidney failure in children. It ruthlessly attacks the kidney’s filtering system: The glomeruli, tiny clusters of capillaries within each nephron that filter toxins from the blood, scar, harden and stop working. Patients are forced onto chronic dialysis and, all too often, need a kidney transplant.

“To make matters worse, many patients have recurrence of the disease soon after transplant,” says William Harmon, MD, chief of Children’s Division of Nephrology. “First it ruins your native kidney, then it can return instantly in the transplant and ruin that also.” Amazingly, this can sometimes happen within hours of transplantation.

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