History of the Division

Division Heads

Nathan W. Levine, M.D., 1971-1988
Francis Dumler, M.D. (Acting), 1988-1990
Robert G. Narins, M.D., 1990-2000
Thomas Dunfee, M.D. (Acting), 2000
Jerry Yee, M.D. (Acting), 2000-2001
Jerry Yee, M.D., 2001-Present

The 1950s

The Division of Nephrology and Hypertension at Henry Ford Hospital grew out of hypertension research done in the 1950s under the leadership of John Caldwell, M.D. Also, Clarence Rupe, M.D., was considered the first physician at Henry Ford Hospital to develop the use of dialysis in the hypertension clinic in the 1950s. Significant control of hypertension became possible after 1958, when diuretics became available.

The 1960s

In 1963, the twin-coil artificial kidney machine became available at Ford Hospital. In the late 1960s, as Chair of Internal Medicine, Richmond Smith, M.D., decided to move hypertension staff to the Division of Metabolic Diseases under Fred Whitehouse, M.D. Afterward, Drs. Whitehouse and Caldwell recruited Oscar Carretero, M.D., in 1968 to establish the basic science hypertension research laboratory and to work closely with clinician researchers. That same year, Stanley G. Dienst, M.D., was appointed as the chief of transplantation for the hospital. The first allogeneic kidney transplant was performed in Detroit at Henry Ford Hospital by the renowned vascular surgery group, headed by D. Emerick Szilagyi, M.D., Roger Smith, M.D., and Joe Elliott, M.D.

The 1970s

Jonathan Parsons, Ph.D., of the Edsel B. Ford Research Institute, Department of Physics and Biophysics, developed methods of X-ray diffraction in the analysis of biological and medical compounds and substances, which was significant in the work with kidney stones.

In 1971 Nathan W. Levin, M.D., joined Henry Ford Hospital as the first chief of the Division of Nephrology and Hypertension. A native South African, Dr. Levin was chief of the renal section of the Veterans Administration Research Hospital and Associate Professor of Medicine at the Northwestern University Medical School, Chicago.

The following year the 11th Annual Kidney Disease Symposium was held at Mercy College in Detroit and featured the work of several Henry Ford physicians and researchers.

In 1973, the Troy satellite began to provide renal dialysis clinics under the direction of Dr. Levin. Francis Dumler, M.D., who completed his training at Ford Hospital including a nephrology fellowship, joined the Division’s staff in the 1970s and became Physician-in-Charge of the Fairlane satellite’s hemodialysis center in Dearborn and Director of the Immobilized Enzyme Research Laboratory.

The 1980s

Dr. Levin first recruited Pedro Cortes, M.D., a native of Spain and former fellow of his from Northwestern. Dr. Cortes became well known for his work in diabetes research. He recruited Max Wisgerhof, M.D., and opened the hypertension clinic in the Clara Ford Pavilion on the hospital’s campus in 1982. The area provided exam rooms, labs, offices, and 15 dialysis stations. The nephrology hypertension clinic and dialysis unit were under the direction of Dr. Levin and staffed by Drs. Wisgerhof, Caldwell, and Arturo Pascual.

In 1983, the Henry Ford Health Care Corporation was formed as the parent organization of the hospital and two subsidiaries: Fairlane Health Services for the development of new business and Greenfield Health Systems Corporation for varied services, including kidney dialysis.

Drs. Francis Dumler and Pedro Cortes along with many other scientists conducted ongoing work in the nephrology research laboratory. Dr. Dumler was an active researcher in the renal metabolic alterations in diabetes. After Dr. Levin’s departure, he served as Acting Division Head from 1988-1990.

The 1990s

Robert G. Narins, M.D. led the Division from 1990 to 2000. A leader in education and teaching, Dr. Narins later became Chair of the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) Nephrology Board. The American Society of Nephrology established the Robert G. Narins Award in 2006, which is given annually to individuals with “meritorious contributions in education and teaching.”

In 1996, a cross-racial living kidney transplant between two friends was performed at Henry Ford Hospital. This was the first of its kind in Michigan and one of only two dozen in the United States.

Jerry Yee, M.D., was appointed Division Head of Nephrology and Hypertension in 2001 and serves as the chief medical director of Greenfield Health Systems, the end-stage renal disease administrator for the health system. Dr. Yee is the current Editor-in-Chief of Advances in Chronic Kidney Disease, a publication of the National Kidney Foundation and Deputy Editor of the Nephrology Self Assessment Program, a publication of the American Society of Nephrology. He also chaired the ABIM’s CKD Practice Improvement Module committee.

The 21st century

Under Dr. Yee’s leadership, the Division has expanded across clinical, education, and research areas. The Division is known for expertise in CKD management, diabetic nephropathy, acute kidney injury, renal replacement therapies, and kidney/pancreas transplant medicine.
In 2009 Henry Ford Hospital became the first in Michigan to participate in a domino donor kidney transplant in which eight patents received a new kidney from eight unrelated donors at four hospitals in four states. The surgeries began the largest series of kidney paired donations (KPD) ever. The surgeries were performed at Henry Ford Hospital, Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore, INTEGRIS Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City, and at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, MO.

Oral history of nephrology

Read or listen to Dr. Nathan Levin’s memories of advancements in the field of nephrology over the course of his 50 years in medicine.