Antoine Mauroy

Wild and Crazy Guy: The First Human Transfusions

I heard about a new series on Cinemax starring Clive Owen, a favorite actor of mine, called “The Knick.” A fictional character, Dr. John Thackery, is a surgeon at the turn of the 20th century–a profession more akin to being a butcher than a doctor. Set at the also fictional Knickerbocker hospital, the series will portray medicine at a time when there was no anesthesia or antibiotics. I’d love to watch this to see Owen and the series, but alas, I don’t have TV. Not even Owen could get me to subscribe again!
 But I do love the history of medicine. One of my favorite stories is the history of blood, particularly how physicians and researchers employed it and through research and trial and error, learned how to properly transfuse.
The ancient Greeks saw all phenomena as resulting from the interaction of four elements: air, fire, wind, earth. In the body, this manifested as “humors”: phlegm, choler, bile, and blood. The Greeks believed good health meant maintaining a balance in the humor, so draining blood (“blood-letting”) and purging the digestive system should help restore balance.
One of the first human blood transfusion first took place in Paris, in the 17th century. It took a wild and undiagnosed insane man, Antoine Mauroy, to help change the course of history. One night in 1667, in a frenzy, he shed his clothes, and ran through streets of Paris, setting fires. Dr. Jean-Baptitste Denis, physician to
king Louis XIV, had been experimenting with transfusing blood from animals into humans. He had his “aha” moment: let’s try this on Mauroy. He infused ½ cup of calf’s blood into the mentally besieged man. His reasoning was that the calf was a calm animal, therefore, its blood would be calm. Infusing it should calm the wild man.
This belief was called “vitalism”: that blood somehow carried the essence of the creature. A stag’s
blood carried courage; a horse’s, strength. A calf, calm.
Previous to this experiment, others physicians had dabbled in transfusions with animals. Richard
Lower, an English physician, tried transfusing blood from one dog to another: he figured out to use
artery into a vein and it worked. His findings about the transfusion of blood are often ranked among the most important discoveries in medical history. And he is still remembered one of Oxford’s finest doctors. The English medical community worked on transfusions a year before
Denis.Dr. Denis had also tried transfusions in humans twice before, successfully.

So back to the madman. Unfortunately, Antoine Maury eventually died after the third infusion. Dr. Denis was accused of murder, and later acquitted, but it turned out that Maury’s wife poisoned Maury! He wasn’t the only wild one in that family. Human transfusions were stopped, and another 150 years would pass before they were attempted again.
Great Book I Just Read
Dear and Glorious Physician
Taylor Caldwell

A fictionalized account of the Gospel writer Lucanus (Luke), who was Greek and also a physician. Beautifully written, lyrical, expansive, with excellent character portrayal, this story covers Luke’s childhood, his motivation to become a physician, the influences in his life that drove and tormented him to heal the sick and to seek out those who knew Jesus Christ. For Luke never met Jesus, though their lives intersected, and this book hypothesizes how his gospel came to be written. It’s an inspirational book about faith, and Luke’s rage against God and desire to heal in spite of God’s perceived callousness to his people. It’s about reconciliation, as Luke eventually realizes what the spirit of God is about. Beautiful prose but at times over the top in length and description. Very long read but worth it. Five/five stars.

The Beginnings of Transfusions

This week I am off to the National Hemophilia Foundation meeting in San Francisco, and I thought an historical look at blood might be in order. I can’t think of a better story about blood than one that starts with a madman running naked through the streets of Paris in the 17th century. True.

Chapter 1 of the wonderful book Blood by Douglas Starr starts with poor Antoine Mauroy, who suffered “phrensies.” From time to time, he would take off his clothes, run through streets and set fires. Eventually, doctors experimented on him to try to cure him. Mauroy became the guinea pig in an experiment that forever changed medicine. In 1667 Jean-Baptitste Denis, physician to king Louis XIV, transfused half a cup of blood from a calf into Mauroy. He hoped the “gentleness” of the calf would infuse as well. Despite the discoveries of the Renaissance and the advances made in science, doctors still believed the blood somehow carried the characteristics of the creature, a concept known as “vitalism.” For example, a stag’s blood carried courage; a calf gentleness. Since the ancient Greeks, the body was not yet viewed as a system, and doctors knew nothing of hormones, genes or viruses. It would be 200 more years before they discovered that water transported disease! In the 17th century, doctors believed that in the “humors”: phlegm, choler, bile, blood. The Greeks believed that good health meant maintaining a balance of the humors in the body, so draining blood and purging digestive system should help. This is where blood-letting as a medical treatment evolved.

Blood– it has a colorful past! And worth reading about. Be sure to read Blood by Douglas Starr.

Other doctors and researchers dabbled in finding out the secrets of the blood. William Harvey found valves in blood vessels, which led him to think that the body might be a system, more mechanical. Christopher Wren (the famous architect whose beautiful cathedrals I just glimpsed when I was in London last week) and Robert Boyle, founder of modern chemistry, dabbled in circulation. Richard Lower tried transfusing blood from one dog to another: he discovered how to transfuse from an artery into a vein and it worked.

What happened to our madman? Antoine Maury died from the procedure. What doctors didn’t know is that proteins in the blood from one animal–even from another person– are not always accepted by the body. The immune system may attack the foreign proteins. Dr. Denis was accused of murder. He in turn sued Antoine Mauroy’s widow in 1668 for slandering his reputation. Turns out Mauroy actually died from arsenic poisoning– by his wife! Still, the French Parliament’s banned all transfusions involving humans. Similar actions follow in England and Rome. And 150 years would pass before it was tried again.

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