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Medical Terminology Daily (MTD) is a blog sponsored by Clinical Anatomy Associates, Inc. as a service to the medical community, medical students, and the medical industry. We will post a workweek daily medical or surgical term, its meaning and usage, as well as biographical notes on anatomists, surgeons, and researchers through the ages. Be warned that some of the images used depict human anatomical specimens.

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A Moment in History

Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter
Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter (1811-1859)

Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter

(1811-1859)

Thomas Dent Mutter was born on March 9, 1811, in Richmond, VA. His mother died in 1813, and his father died of tuberculosis in 1817. Thomas was orphaned when he was barely 8 years old. His father left him a somewhat meager inheritance and in his early life had to do with less that others with his objectives in life. He was well educated under the tutelage of Robert Carter, his guardian, and in 1824 he started his studies at the Hampden Sidney College of Virginia. He continued with a medical apprenticeship with a Dr. Simms in VA. He was well respected and even at his early age he would do home visits for his medical benefactor with great results. He started medical studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned his MD in 1831. The new young doctor, Thomas Dent Mutter, MD was only 20 years of age.

At the time, Europe was the place to go to if you wanted advanced medical studies. Dr. Mutter had no money, so he applied as a ship surgeon to be able to cross the Atlantic. Once in Europe, he spent time in Paris, where he studied under the tutelage of Dr. Guillaume Dupuytren. He later studied for a short time in England where he met Dr. Robert Liston. Following Dupuytren's teachings, Mutter was fascinated by plastic surgery.

A chance encounter with what was to become his first well-known acquisition of a medical curiosity, Mutter started thinking on how to help those people that were known at that time as “monsters”, patients who the general public did not see, because they did not appear in public. The curiosity in question was a wax reproduction of the face of a French woman who had a “horn” arising from her forehead. This piece is on exhibit at the Mütter Museum.

Back in the United States in 1832, Thomas Dent Mutter changed his last name to give it a more “European” sound and added an “umlaut”, so now he was Thomas D. Mütter, MD. It may also be that he wanted to pay homage to his Scottish-German heritage, who knows? He opened his medical office in Philadelphia and although it took time, eventually he had a thriving practice. One of his specialties was the work on “deformities” so common at the time because of facial scars born out of the use of open fires in houses, and deformities caused by burns and loss of tissue due to chemicals used in local industry. Dr. Mütter is the pioneer of what we call today “Reconstructive Surgery”.

In 1835 he was asked to join the Medical Institute of Philadelphia as an assistant professor of Surgery. He was an instant success. Dr. Mütter was adored by his students because, he would question the students and guide them to discovery instead of just lecturing and leaving. In his Discourse eulogy of Dr. Mütter by Joseph Pancoast he writes:” The power of attracting students near him by his mingled gentleness, energy, and enthusiasm; of fixing their attention by the lucid and methodical arrangements of his Subject, by his clear demonstrations, and sprightly oral elucidations, came so readily to him, and was so early displayed) as to seem almost intuitive.” In 1841 Dr Mütter was appointed Professor of Surgery at the Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia.

Dr. Mütter had always had poor health, even in childhood, and his dedication to his passion, long hours, took its toll on his body. In 1956 he set sail for Europe and resigned his teaching duties. He was named Emeritus Professor of Surgery. Unfortunately, the trip did not help, and he returned to the US in early 1958. Fearful of another winter in cold Philadelphia, he moved to Charleston, SC, where he died on March 19, 1859.

Dr. Mütter’s story does not end here. He was an avid collector and throughout his short life he had pulled together an impressive collection of medical oddities, samples, and curiosities. Knowing that his life was at an end, he negotiated with the Philadelphia College of Physicians to have them host his collection in perpetuity as well as the creation of a trust fund that would ensure that the public and medical students would have access to this incredible collection. Through the years this collection has increased and is known today as the Mütter Museum of the Philadelphia College of Physicians. I strongly urge our readers to visit this incredible museum. For more information, click here.

Personal notes: In the late 90’s, I attended a meeting of the American Association of Clinical Anatomists.  During the meeting I met Gretchen Worden, who at the time was the Curator of the Mütter museum. Gretchen was inspirational, fun, and a great conversationalist! I had the opportunity to visit Gretchen at the Mütter museum and had the luck to be treated to a “behind the scenes” tour. What an experience! I was saddened to hear that Gretchen Worden passed on August 2, 2004. Still, in my recent visit to the Mütter Museum, I was glad to see a new section at the museum that remembers Gretchen. Her biography can be read here.

I would like to thank Dr. Leslie Wolf for lending me the book by O’Keefe that lead to me writing this article. Dr. Miranda

Sources:
1. “Dr. Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine” O’Keefe, C. 2015 Penguin Random House, LLC
2. “A Discourse Commemorative of the Late Professor T.D. Mütter” Pancoast, J. 1859 J Wilson Publisher
3. “Thomas Dent Mütter: the humble narrative of a surgeon, teacher, and curious collector” Baker, J, et al. The American Surgeon, Atlanta 77:iss5 662-14
4. “Thomas Dent Mutter, MD: early reparative surgeon” Harris, ES; Morgan, RF. Ann Plast Surg 1994 33(3):333-8
5. “5 Things I Learned from Thomas Dent Mütter” O’Keefe C.


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Atrial fibrillation

What is atrial fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is one of the most common heart conditions, affecting 4% of the adult population. Characterized by a rapid, irregular heartbeat, AFib is largely due to abnormal electrical impulses that cause the atria of the heart to quiver when it should be beating steadily. Blood flow is reduced and is not completely pumped out of the two small upper chambers of the heart, the atria.  This negatively impacts cardiac performance and also allows the blood to pool and potentially clot. At rest, a normal heart rate is approximately 60 – 100 beats per minute.  In a person with AFib, that heart rate can skyrocket to 180 bpm or even higher.  Thorough testing by your health care provider can spot abnormalities in the heart's rhythm before any obvious symptoms are noticed.

What are the symptoms?

EKG - Atrial Fibrillation, courtesy Dr. Randall K Wolf
Click on the image for a larger view

Whether it is caused by stress, exercise, or too much caffeine, most people experience a racing heart from time to time.  Most cases are harmless, but AFib is a serious medical condition that may often be long lasting.  Some people with AFib experience no symptoms at all.  But for others,  AFib may cause:

    Exercise intolerance
    Fatigue
    Severe shortness of breath
    Chest pain
    Palpitations
    Light-headiness

What causes atrial fibrillation?

Your heart is divided into four chambers: the two upper chambers called atria, and two lower chambers called ventricles. In order for blood to be pumped through your body, a group of specialized cardiac cells, the conduction system of the heart,  sends electrical impulses to the atria that tells your heart to contract. Contractions of the heart send approximately five quarts of blood through your body every minute. In people with AFib, however, the impulses are sent chaotically. The atria quiver instead of beat; the blood isn't completely pumped out and may pool and potentially clot.

Are you at risk?

Your chances of developing AFib increase with age.  AFib occurs more commonly in women than in men.  According to the Framingham Heart Study (http://circ.ahajournals.org/cgi/content/full/110/9/1042), AFib is associated with a higher risk of death for women than for men. You are also at greater risk of developing AFib if you suffer from an overactive thyroid, high blood pressure, a prior heart attack, congestive heart failure, valve disease or congenital disorders.

Diagnosis

AFib can sometimes be diagnosed with a stethoscope during an exam by a doctor or other health care provider and is confirmed or diagnosed with an electrocardiogram (EKG). There are several types of EKG’s. They are:

Resting EKG – Electrical activity in the heart is monitored when a person is at rest.
Exercise EKG – Activity is monitored when a person jogs on a treadmill or exercises on a stationary bike.
24-hour EKG (Holter Monitor) – A person wears a small, portable monitor that detects activity over the course of a day.
Transtelephonic event monitoring – A person wears a monitor for a period of a few days to several weeks. When AF is felt, the person telephones a monitoring station or activates the monitor's memory function. This type of EKG is particularly useful in detecting AF that occurs only once every few days or weeks. Unfortunately this type of monitor does not record heart events while you are sleeping.

The image on this article is a typical EKG AFib recording showing the flutter of the atria followed by the ventricular contraction. In the larger image (click on the image of the article) you can see how this fluttering of the atria causes an abnormal spacing of the ventricular contractions which some patients feel in their chest.

PERSONAL NOTE:Dr. Wolf will lecture on a seminar on this topic on April 21st, 2018 in Houston, TX. For more information on this event and on AFib, click here.

Thanks to Dr. Randall Wolf for the image and links