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Milton Roy kidney machine, United States, 1966

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Imagine your kidneys stopped working and you depended on a machine to clean your blood. If so, given the choice would you prefer to use it at home or in a hospital? On the one hand, having a machine in the comfort of your own home would make it more convenient to carry out the blood-cleaning dialysis. And you wouldn’t need to travel to hospital each week. It would also mean you could clean your blood more often, keeping you healthier. However, choosing to receive dialysis in hospital would be much safer. If the machine became faulty, trained medical staff would be at hand to help. Moreover, home dialysis could be pretty complicated. You and your carers would need to be trained to operate the machine which would also need regular maintenance. You would also have to make some hefty changes to your house, such as altering the plumbing, to accommodate the machine. Moreen Lewis was one British patient in the 1960s faced with this dilemma. Unlike many kidney patients at the time, Moreen’s family could afford to buy her a machine that would let her carry out dialysis at home and for nine years Moreen used this machine to clean her blood. The machine’s £7,000 price tag was an enormous sum of money – then the equivalent of twice the cost of an average family house. It was the first machine specifically designed for dialysis at home rather than in hospital and it was deliberately made to look like a piece of furniture in order to better blend into home surroundings.

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    Glossary: kidney dialysis machine

    A machine used to artificially replicate the function of the kidneys.