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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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Esophageal hiatus hernia

UPDATED: An esophageal hiatus hernia (also known as a hiatal hernia) is caused by a dilation of the esophageal hiatus and its component structures, the phrenoesophageal membranes (ligaments).

Since the intraabdominal pressure is higher than the intrathoracic pressure, abdominal contents -usually stomach and greater omentum- can herniate through the dilated esophageal hiatus into the mediastinum, the central region of the thoracic cavity. This presents as a hernia sac whose walls are formed by endothoracic fascia, phrenoesophageal membranes and parietal peritoneum. 

There are two main types of esophageal hiatus hernias. Type I is known as a "sliding hiatal hernia" and is characterized by a complete ascension of the esophagogastric junction and abdominal esophagus into the thoracic hernia sac. This is usually accompanied by a typical "hourglass image" in a radiographic assessment, and also presents with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Type I esophageal hiatus hernias are more common.

Type II esophageal hiatus hernia is known as a "paraesophageal hernia" and represent about 5 - 15% of esophageal hiatus hernias. In this case, the esophagogastric junction maintains its anatomical position inferior to the respiratory diaphragm, but the fundus and body of the stomach, along with some greater omentum herniate alongside the esophagus into the mediastinal region of the thoracic cavity. Although there can be GERD, this type of hernia usually presents with little symptomatology, and when it does, symptoms are related to ischemia or partial to complete obstruction. There are variations of type II hernia, which are classified as Type III and IV. Type IV, although rare, will include other viscera in the hernia sac, including colon, spleen, or even small intestine

Esophageal hiatus hernia in situ.The arrow points to stomach and greater omentum herniating into the thoraxEsophageal hiatus hernia, reduced. The dotted line shows the edge of the enlarged esophageal hiatus.

Images property of: CAA.Inc. 
Photographer: David M. Klein

The accompanying images above depict a Type I esophageal hiatus hernia. The superior image shows the hernia in situ where the stomach and greater omentum are still in the hernia sac. The inferior image shows the contents reduced and the abdominal esophagus being pulled into the abdominal cavity. The dotted line shows the dilated esophageal hiatus that needs to be repaired to prevent recurrence of the pathology.

The image below answers a question by Victoria Guy Ratcliffe, who asked via Facebook "What would it be if it feels like you've got a blockage right at the level of the heart? That's too high for a hiatal hernia, isn't it? " The image answers the question. It shows a dissection of the left side of the thorax. The anterior thoracic wall and the left lung have been removed. The heart is immediately superior and anterior to the esophageal hiatus, and the hernia sac of a Type I esophageal hiatus hernia is seen immediately posterior and in contact with the heart. Whether this means that you will "feel" the hernia, it is up for debate, as all these structures have visceral innervation. Most probably, a well-developed Type II esophageal hiatus hernia might interfere with swallowing at this level, causing the sensation she mentions. Thanks for the question, Tori.

Type I esophageal hiatus hernia<em>.</em>The hernia sac can be seen posterior to the heart

For additional information: "Approaches to the Diagnosis and Grading of Hiatal Hernia" Kahrilas et al Best Pract Res Clin Gastroenterol. 2008 ; 22(4): 601–616.