“The Hall of Immortals” is one of two inaugural exhibits premiered at the International Museum of Surgical Science in 1954. The gallery was a gift to the Museum of Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Speidel. The thirteen statues on view in this gallery were sculpted by artists Louis Linck and Edouard Chassaing in the early 1950s.
Read More About the Thirteen “Immortals”:
Imhotep (Egyptian, c. 2700 B.C.) is the earliest known physician. He also established himself as Minister of the State, a scribe, a seer, an architect, an astronomer, and a magician. Imhotep’s incredible achievements earned him the status of a god. Deified under the XVII dynasty, a temple was erected in Imhotep’s honor at the island of Philae. He became known as “the greatest physician of the gods and men,” “the god who grants life to all who turn to him,” and “the god who protects men.” Imhotep is also believed to have been the author of the document known as the Edwin Smith Papyrus. This document is the oldest known record of surgical procedure and is noted for its accuracy and high scientific quality.
Asklepios (Greek, c. 1200 B.C.) was the Greek god of medicine and son of Apollo. Mentioned by Homer, Asklepios may have been an actual physician whose skills were so renowned that he eventually attained the status of a god. Worship of Asklepios lasted until around 600 A.D., reaching its peak around 300 B.C., when there were hundreds of temples dedicated to the god throughout the Greek empire. Patients seeking treatment by the god would bring votive gifts to one of his temples, undergo ritual purification, and then spend the night in the sanctuary. Any dreams or visions would be interpreted by the physician-priests. Snakes, believed by the Greeks to have healing powers, were sacred to Asklepios and were allowed to roam free in his temples. The staff of Asklepios, entwined by a single serpent, is the model for our modern medical emblem, although it is sometimes used interchangeably with the caduceus, a winged staff entwined by two serpents, symbolic of the Greek god Hermes.
Hippocrates, “The Father of Medicine” (Greek, c. 460 – 361 B.C.) came from a family of physicians. While he was the student of Asklepios, whose healing powers were attributed to his supposed divinity, Hippocrates based his study of medicine on investigation and experience instead of religion. His emphasis upon the importance of prognosis helped liberate humans from the superstitious belief in the supernatural origin of disease. He developed the theory of the body having four humors—black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood—that needed to be in balance for good health. The original form of the Hippocratic doctrine, The Humoral Pathology, has long been discarded, but some phrases still survive in the Hippocratic Oath taken today by all medical students. Hippocrates’ use of the mind and senses as diagnostic instruments, his honesty and high conception of the dignity of the physician’s calling, and his devotion to the welfare of the patient make him the world’s most revered physician.
Claudius Galen (Greek, c. 131 – 200 A.D), was a Greek who served as physician to the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. Galenus had traveled extensively to gain medical instruction from the foremost physicians of his time. He later advanced his knowledge and skill by treating wounded gladiators, whose injuries gave him glimpses of human muscles, tendons, bones, nerves, and vitals otherwise not available for examination, as the practice of human dissection was prohibited in the Roman Empire. He also did extensive dissections on animals to study human anatomy. Using these studies, Galenus wrote more than 300 books, eighty-three of which are still extant. They dominated medical thinking for fifteen centuries. Galenus is the founder of experimental medicine. He advised his students to see and handle human bones instead of merely reading about them. He described valves of the heart and realized that arteries contain blood, not air as was previously believed. He was the first to describe the cranial nerves and sympathetic nervous system, and he gave the first valid explanation of the mechanism of respiration. Despite these insights, he perpetuated the incorrect theory of humors, which encouraged the procedure of bloodletting.
Ambroise Parè (French, c. 1510-1590), is called the father of modern surgery. At the age of fourteen he started as a barber’s apprentice in Laval. He became a dresser at Paris’ L’Hopital-Dieu in 1529 and a military surgeon eight years later. He soon made himself the greatest surgeon of his time by his courage, ability, and common sense. Soldiers were known to have said “Parè is among us, we shall not die.” Parè’s skills led him to many innovative techniques. On a battlefield in 1537 he first treated gunshot wounds with ligature instead of burning oil, even developing his own forceps for tying bleeding vessels. He performed the first exarticulation of a joint on an elbow, introduced podalic version in obstetrics, devised artificial limbs and eyes, introduced the truss, and combated the then-common practice of castration to treat bilateral hernia. When discussing a patient he used to say, “I took care of him, but God healed him.”
Andreas Vesalius (Belgian, 1514 – 1564) contributed to major shifts at a pivotal moment in the history of medicine. Science had regressed during a 1,200-year dark period that followed the achievements of Galen and the anatomists Herophilus and Erasistratos of the Alexandrian School. The crude anatomical knowledge of this era ended when Andreas Vesalius of Brussels, known today as the founder of modern anatomy, began his studies. Vesalius provided the foundation for the science of anatomy, which is essential to modern medicine. His observations, completed in only five years’ time, easily surpassed the scientific achievements of history up to that point. Dissection, no longer banned, gave insight to surgical procedure. Public ignorance of science caused Vesalius to suffer greatly for his revolutionary studies. Every means of discrediting him and undermining his work was exhausted. Vesalius became sensitive to these attacks, leading him to destroy many valuable manuscripts and to become a court physician to Emperor Charles V. He returned to his anatomical work only to prepare a second edition of his De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem, published in 1555.
William Harvey (English, 1578-1657) studied at Cambridge and Padua where his graduation diploma stated that “he had surpassed even the great hopes his examiners had held for him.” In 1614 he earned the prestigious position of physician at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. Soon afterwards Harvey discovered the circulation of the blood. He had been fascinated by the fact that the heart seemed to do the same thing in every different animal that he dissected. “I began to think,” he said, “whether there might not be a motion as it were in a circle. I afterward found this to be true.” His lecture notes of 1616 are considered the first written description of the theory of blood circulation. Fearing the hostility of his contemporaries, Harvey waited twelve years to publish his De Motu Cordis et Sanguinis (On the Motion of the Heart and the Blood). It took decades for the medical world to incorporate the new doctrine.
Giovanni Battista Morgagni (Italian, 1682 – 1771) is considered the father of pathological anatomy. For sixty years he occupied the chair of anatomy once held by Vesalius at the University of Padua. In his great work De Sedibus et Causis Morborum (On the Seats and Causes of Disease) he gave minute descriptions of his studies. He proved that apoplexy is due to a change in the blood vessels and that hemiplegia affects the opposite side of the cerebral lesion. He pointed out the contagious character of tuberculosis, described gonorrhea, and gave the first description of syphilitic aneurysm and disease of the mitral valve. He was the first to record consolidation in pneumonia intracranial suppuration and Morgagnian cataracts. Morgagni deemed venesection (blood-letting) ineffective in his writings, giving the deathblow to humoral concepts of pathology. Although he also excelled in archaeology, the fine arts, and literature, it was Morgagni’s numerous achievements in pathology that earned him well-deserved fame.
Louis Pasteur (French, 1822 – 1895), the son of a tanner, graduated in 1847 from l’Ecole Normale in Paris. As a professor of Chemistry, Pasteur began his famous studies of fermentation. In 1862, he demolished the notion of spontaneous generation, proving that every microorganism stemmed from previous microorganisms. Pasteur also discovered that germs caused the transformation of wine into vinegar. He found that this could be prevented by a heat source kept low enough not to diminish the quality of the wine. This process of pasteurization plays an enormous role in the preservation of food products. Pasteur’s greatest contribution to science, however, came when he discovered that microorganisms are the cause of disease in all living beings and that various germs can be differentiated by their morphological and biological structure. Pasteur simplified the problem of contagious diseases and their prevention with the introduction of several vaccines, including one for rabies. In 1888, Pasteur founded the institute in Paris that bears his name.
Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis (Hungarian, 1818 – 1865), born in Budapest, is considered a martyr to the science of medicine. In 1844 he worked at the Vienna Laying-In Hospital, a place infamous for the high mortality rate in the maternity ward. Semmelweis noticed that the death rates from puerperal fever (a fever relating to the period after childbirth) were the highest in those rooms where students coming from dissection labs had examined women. When an instructor died from a dissection wound similar to lesions found in women with puerperal fever, Semmelweis concluded that the disease had been transmitted from the dissection lab to the maternity ward. After Semmelweis discovered the link, cleaning the delivery rooms with calcium chloride became standard procedure. As a result, mortality rates dropped dramatically. Although Semmelweis made great advancements for the hospital, his colleagues’ continuous opposition and persecution forced him to resign. He moved to Budapest, where he became Professor of Obstetrics. Sensitivity to the continuous attacks drove Semmelweis to an asylum where he passed away in 1865.
Wilhelm Conrad Röentgen (German, 1845 – 1923), raised in the Netherlands, studied at the Institute of Technology in Zürich, Switzerland. After his schooling, he became Professor of Physics at the University of Würzburg, Bavaria, where he made his great discovery. On November 8, 1895, while experimenting with electrical currents in vacuum tubes, Röentgen discovered a type of ray that could penetrate dense objects. He named this unknown ray an “x-ray.” In December of 1895, he announced this discovery to the Medical Physical Society of Würzburg in a paper entitled On a New Kind of Ray. The public received the discovery with mixed feelings, but the x-ray’s uses were undoubtedly beneficial; they have had an incredible impact on medicine, surgery, and therapeutics. Wilhelm Röentgen received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1901.
Joseph Lister (English, 1827 – 1912), the son of the optic scientist who improved the microscope, was one of the greatest surgeons in the history of medicine. Lister developed an interest in microscopic anatomy and physiology while studying at University College in London. In 1860 Lister began teaching at University of Glasgow, where he did his important research. Joseph Lister focused his studies on the high frequency of gangrene in hospitals. He concluded that it was a result of infection. Louis Pasteur’s work on lactic acid fermentation inspired Lister. He surmised that pathogenic germs had a similar effect on the human body. Lister began to spray the operating room with carbolic acid for sterilization. The carbolic technique, along with Lister’s insistence upon the cleanliness of all persons involved in the operation, was successful. Lister’s system of antisepsis spread after results were published in 1867.
Marie Sklodowska Curie (Polish, 1867 – 1934) was a chemist and physicist. She, her husband Pierre, and Antoine-Henri Becquerel discovered the existence of radioactive materials by identifying uranium and radium in the late 1890’s. In 1903 the trio was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics. Marie Curie was also awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, making her the first person to receive two prizes in different disciplines. Although dangerous, radioactive materials have proven to be a valuable tool in fighting cancer.