Abstract: Chopin’s Heart

DATE: JUNE 9, 2013

TITLE: “Chopin’s Heart”

SPEAKER: Wilfred N. Arnold, Ph. D., Adjunct Professor of History and Philosophy of Medicine and Onetime Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Kansas University Medical Center.

“Chopin’s Heart”

Frédéric Chopin was born near Warsaw, Poland, in 1810 but from 1831 lived mostly in France where he achieved international acclaim for his music in spite of a debilitating and life-shortening illness. He died in 1849 and an autopsy by Dr. Jean Cruveilhier supposedly confirmed tuberculosis of the lungs and larynx, together with cachexia, although written documentation was subsequently lost.

Chopin’s body was interred in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, except for the heart which was preserved in alcohol (cognac), sealed in a crystal urn, taken to his native Poland by his sister Ludwika, and sequestered within a pillar of the Holy Cross Church, in Warsaw.

In 1987, a novel analysis of the available information led to the suggestion of cystic fibrosis as Chopin’s congenital disease. In 2006, a group of Polish biologists not only adopted this diagnosis but attempted to justify genetic analysis on a sample of Chopin’s heart, “to deepen our knowledge about the great Polish composer, but foremost to give hope and meaning to those who nowadays suffer from genetically inherited disorders.” [To suggest that discovering a famous person with the same disease would bring understanding or solace to current patients seems to me to be a specious argument.] To date, Polish authorities have refused DNA testing on the alcohol-preserved organ.

This PowerPoint presentation will show that the clinical and pathological evidence for tuberculosis, a microbial disease, remains much more compelling than that for the genetic disease of cystic fibrosis and this surely adds to the societal and religious arguments that have been expressed against invasive interference with the relic.

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