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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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The presence of Andreas Vesalius in Zakynthos (1)

The island of Zakynthos is one of the Ionian Islands found 155 miles (250 km) to the West of Athens. It is to the South of Macedonia, the island of Odysseus. It is also known as Zanthe or Zante, both pronunciations of the medieval Italian name for this island.

In October 15, 1564 Andreas Vesalius died suddenly at the gates of the main city of the island, also called Zakynthos, after a long and perilous return voyage from his pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The details of this trip and his potential cause of death will be covered in subsequent articles.

As famous as Vesalius is today, you would think that it would be easy to find information as to his grave and presence in the island. This is not so. Vesalius last trip to Jerusalem, his return, his death has been to date shrouded in mystery and legend. Some of these have been clarified in the 2014 Vesalius Continuum meeting in Zakynthos.

There are a few reminders of the presence of Vesalius on the island. The first one is a marble bust found in a small triangular plaza found about 100 yards from the building of the Municipality of Zakynthos and the Dionysios Solomos Square(Πλατεία Διονυσίου Σολωμού). The plaza was initially called “Vesal square” and later was renamed after the former major of Zakynthos, Fotis Ladikos.

Described by O’Malley (1965) in his well-known Vesalius’ biography, I had a difficult time finding the bust, although it is on the main street in front of the sea looking at the port, as most locals do not know about it. It was only by chance that one of the attendees to the meeting, Dr. Kenneth Wise found it close to a well-known Greek Restaurant, the Gallo D’Oro (Golden Rooster). It was also by chance that he and I talked about it when discussing Dr. Wise’s book on Vesalius entitled “All Else Is Mortal”.

The marble bust has a barely readable marble plaque that reads in Greek:

ΑΝΔΡΕΑΣ ΒΕΖΑΛ
ΕΓΕΝΝΗΘΗ ΕΙΣ ΒΡΥξΕλλΕΣ 1-2-1515
ΑΠΕΘΑΝΕ ΕΝ ΖΑΚΥΝΘΩ 15-10-1564

ANDREAS VESALIUS
BORN IN BRUSSELS 1-2-1515
DIED IN ZAKYNTHOS 15-10-1564

This plaque has the wrong date of birth, as it is well documented that Andreas Vesalius was born on the early morning of December 31st, 1514, , making this year 2014 the 500th anniversary of his birth and the 450th  anniversary of this death.

Continued here.

Bust of Vesalius in Zakynthos

Plaque on the Bust of Vesalius in Zakynthos

Bust of Vesalius in Zakynthos