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In memoriam - Prof. Bruno Watschinger, 1920-2017

Bruno Watschinger 

 

On June 28, 2017, Professor Bruno Watschinger passed away at his home in Linz, Austria, 2 weeks after his 97th birthday. The Austrian Society of Nephrology is mourning not only its founder and president of many years, but also an internationally known visionary colleague, who always considered problems and borders as challenges, rather than as insurmountable barriers.

Bruno Watschinger was born on June 14, 1920 in Linz Austria. During the second world war he studied Medicine in Vienna and in Prague, where he received his doctor´s degree from the Karls-University. Following his internship in small hospitals in Upper Austria he moved to the University of Vienna. During a two-year-research fellowship (1948-1950) at the Department of Pharmacology he was particularly interested in studying renal clearances in a rat model of experimental hypertension. Later at the Department of Medicine he focused on human studies in fluid and electrolyte, as well as hypertension research.

In 1955, supported by a 3-month WHO stipend, he pursued a post doctoral fellowship at the Cleveland Clinic, USA working with Dr. Irvine Page and Dr. Arthur Corcoran, two well known experts in hypertension and last but not least with Dr. Willem Kolff, who in 1945 was first to successfully treat acute renal failure by means of dialysis, using his „Rotating Drum Artificial Kidney“ and who was leading the recently established worldwide first Department of Artificial Organs. Being asked by Kolff to do blood clotting studies during treatments with the rotating drum kidney, he refused as he did not see a chance to bring this complicated and expensive method back to the poor post-war Austria. He agreed, however to Kolff´s reply to his refusal - „So then, let us build an artificial kidney that is easy to use“. Together with Kolff he constructed the „Twin-Coil kidney“, an easy to use and inexpensive device, which for many years to follow, together with other types of dialyzers, facilitated the treatment for acute renal failure throughout the world and in later days, together with the development of permanent vascular accesses allowed the start of chronic dialysis in many places worldwide. The Twin-Coil also gave rise to dialysis production companies, a totally new industrial branch.

 

Picture shows Bruno Watschinger prepapring the twin coil for clinical use (1958)



After leaving the University of Vienna in 1960 he became Head of a Department of Internal Medicine at the Elisabethinen Hospital in Linz, where he found a supportive environment to follow his vision and to build up a dialysis unit, which soon became the biggest in Austria. In 1974 expanded the treatment options for kidney patients at the hospital by initiating the now third largest transplant program in Austria

Bruno Watschinger was co-founder of the Society of Nephrology of Germany, Switzerland and Austria in 1961, and founded the Austrian Society of Nephrology in 1970.

He remained tireless in promoting the goal for a better treatment for renal patients and to reach out to others in order to achieve this goal together. He considered it incomprehensible and inacceptable that during the cold war, when the „iron curtain“ was dividing Europe in East and West, colleagues from the former Eastern European countries were excluded from scientific exchange with the West. This triggered his founding of the Danube Symposia of Nephrology. Already in 1976, owing to his personality and helped by the political neutrality of Austria, he was successful to invite colleagues from the East to attend the first Danube Symposium in Linz, Austria. This successful start was followed by many subsequent meetings alternating between western and eastern Danube countries. The whole Danube Symposium initiative is still considered by many as a crucial support for nephrological science in their home countries at the time.

Bruno Watschinger was an enthusiastic scientist and doctor, who cared about his patients, he was a teacher, mentor for many generations of nephrologists. He was awarded Honorary President of the Austrian Society of Nephrology and has received honors from nephrological societies of many countries.

Bruno had a long association with the EDTA being one of its very early members and by contributing much, particularly to many of the annual congresses. He served as Congress President in 1973 and again in 1990 when the annual meetings were held in Vienna. In recognition of the outstanding support he gave to the ERA-EDTA he was awarded Honorary Membership in 1991. The Vienna congresses are remembered for the way in which Bruno was able to construct a programme which contained outstanding scientific merit (Proc EDTA 10, 1973 and Nephrol Dial Trans 1990; 5: 637-760) but, in addition, encompassed a social element so that friends and colleagues could meet, relax and renew friendships. Who cannot remember the 1990 Vienna meeting without thinking about the social programme which involved a train to Gumpoldskirchen and the subsequent happy hours in the Heurigens. Bruno Watschinger delivered congresses which fulfilled all that is required to ensure complete satisfaction for those attending.

In addition to his many academic achievements Bruno was a warm and kind person. He supported many in their early academic years and was unstinting in his encouragement of young researchers. He had a delightful sense of humour and always seemed to be smiling as illustrated by the photograph above. He had a great love for his wife and family and this was a significant support to him in his latter years. He was delighted that his son, Bruno, followed him in nephrology practice.

Bruno was a unique character who will be fondly remembered by all those with whom he came in contact whether as patients, colleagues, scientific co-workers or friends – they all seemed to end up becoming his friend. His contribution to medicine and nephrology in particular will be long remembered. The ERA-EDTA has lost a true friend and a valued supporter.

Rainer Oberbauer and Alexander M. Davison

 


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