publication date: Apr. 12, 2019

An Appreciation

Robert Hickman, inventor of the Hickman catheter, dies at 92

By Fred Hutch News Service staff

Robert O. Hickman, a pediatric nephrologist and inventor of a catheter that revolutionized care for cancer patients, died on April 4. He was 92.

In the 1970s, Hickman was a founding member of the transplant team at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center that pioneered the Nobel-Prize winning treatment. His contribution to that effort: The lifesaving device that bears his name and is still used worldwide to deliver IV nutrition, draw blood, and deliver chemotherapy.

The Hickman catheter “was a gift to the world,” said Fred Appelbaum, executive vice president and deputy director of Fred Hutch, who worked with Hickman.

“People make contributions in lots of ways,” he said. “Some have deep scientific insights that uncover DNA or how viruses work. Bob’s contribution, from a scientific standpoint, was relatively simple. But his invention saved more suffering, anxiety, and pain than almost anyone I can imagine.”

That invention transformed doctors’ ability to access a patient’s bloodstream. And it was born out of desperate need. Among the many hardships early bone marrow transplant patients faced was an endless nightmare of needle sticks, Appelbaum recalled.

“Patients were starving to death nutritionally,” he said. “They couldn’t eat because of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. They were losing enormous amounts of weight that made them much more susceptible to infections.”

That meant they had to be fed intravenously. But nurses and physicians often struggled to find a vein to do so.

“These were very sick patients,” Hickman recalled in 2002. “They had come to the Hutch as a last … Continue reading Robert Hickman, inventor of the Hickman catheter, dies at 92

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