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Theodor Billroth

The well known surgeon, Theodor Billroth, was born on the island of Rügen in 1829. He showed great talent and liking for music, and it was the wish of his father, who was a minister, that he should cultivate this taste and become an artist; but the great masters of medicine, Johannes Mueller, Meckel v. Hemsbach, R. Wagner, Traube, and Schönlein, who were Billroth's instructors at Greifswald, Göttingen, and Berlin, discovered his great talent for surgery and medicine, and induced him to adopt this profession. It was particularly the late Prof. Baum who influenced Billroth to make surgery a special study, and he was Billroth's first special instructor.

In 1852 Billroth received his degree as doctor at the University of Berlin. After traveling for one year, and spending part of his time in Vienna and Paris, he was appointed assistant in the clinique of B. von Langenbeck, Berlin. At this time he published his works on pathological histology ("Microscopic Studies on the Structure of Diseased Human Tissues") which made him so well known that he was appointed a professor of pathology at Greifswald in 1858. Mr. Billroth did not accept that call, and was appointed professor of surgery at Zurich in 1860, and during that time his wonderful operations gave him a world-wide reputation. In 1867 the medical faculty of the Vienna University concluded to appoint Billroth as successor to Prof. Schuh, which position he still fills.

Billroth is a master of surgical technique, and his courage and composure increase with the difficulty of the operation. He always makes use of the most simple apparatus and instruments, and follows a theoretically scientific course which he has never left since he adopted surgery as a profession, and by which he has directed surgery into entirely new channels. He has given special attention to the study of the healing of wounds, the development of swellings and tumors, and the treatment of wounds in relation to decomposition and the formation of proud flosh. He has had wonderful success in performing plastic operations on the face, such as the formation of new noses, lips, etc., from flesh taken from other parts of the body or from the face. Although Billroth devoted much of his time to the solution of theoretical problems, he has also been very successful as an operator. He has removed diseased larynxes, performed dangerous goiter operations, and successfully removed parts of the oesophagus, stomach, and intestines.

Billroth has been very careful in the selection of his scholars, and many of them are now professors of surgery and medicine in Germany, Belgium, and Austria. They all honor and admire him, his courage, his character, his humane treatment of the sick and suffering, arid his amiability.

Source: Scientific American Supplement, No. 483, April 4, 1885

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