August 28, 2022

VWD in the Land of Fire and Ice

Being in the Nordic regions of the world made me think about the origins of von Willebrand disease (VWD), how it was identified. Why?

VWD was named after the doctor who first identified it: Dr. Erik Adolf von Willebrand, a Finnish physician who first described VWD in 1926. He began to study an unusual bleeding disorder in the local communities, called Ålandic hemorrhagic disease. In 1925, Dr. von Willebrand evaluated a five-year-old girl named Hjördis. She lived on the remote island of Föglö, which belongs to Åland, a group of islands in the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Finland.Hjördis was bleeding excessively from her lip following an injury. She had a history of nosebleeds and bleeding following tooth extraction. She was one of 12 children, 10 of whom showed bleeding symptoms. Sadly, four of her siblings died of uncontrollable bleeding between the ages of two and four. Hjördis herself later bled to death during her fourth menstrual period. When Dr. von Willebrand studied the extended family, he discovered that 23 of 66 family members (16 females and 7 males) also had bleeding problems. The history of the original Finnish family has now been traced back to 1750, identifying over 1,000 members, with 125 known to be affected, and 12 who died from bleeding.

According to the website of the Icelandic Hemophilia Society, Iceland has about 127 registered people with VWD. Of these, 60 are mild (Type I) and 67 are severe. We know there are three main types of VWD, and numerous subtypes, so this information isn’t very clear on how many have what type. But we can be assured they are getting excellent care. And we mentioned last week that Icelanders have kept excellent genealogies of their families, meaning we can trace back family lineages for, in some cases, thousands of years, like the Finnish VWD family first recognized as having VWD.

I hope to return to Iceland and meet some of these friendly people who belong to our global family, in the land of fire and ice!

You can read all about VWD in our book, A Guide to Living with von Willebrand Disease, free to patients! Order here.

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