Baron Guillaume Dupuytren

Guillaume Dupuytren was born on 5 (or 6?) Oct 1777 in Pierre-Buffière (near Limoges, France). Being very talented yet poor his study at Collège de la Marche was funded by charity. At the age of 18 he already became prosecutor in anatomy in Paris, later he was promoted head surgeon to the Hôtel-Dieu. He also was surgeon of Louis XVIII and Charles X and accumulated considerable wealth. At his time he was a well recognized surgeon in Europe who published extensively, his probably most important publication being his treatise on artificial anus. He died on 8 Feb 1835 in Paris.

Today Dupuytren is most known through Dupuytren’s disease or contracture. The disease was probably first described by Felix Platter of Basel, Switzerland, in 1614 (Felix Platter, Observationum in hominis affectibus. Basileae, L. König, 1614, Liber I, p 140.). Dupuytren then demonstrated a technique how to perform surgery on this disease. His technique included cuts into the fascia, allowing straightening the fingers with the characteristic snap (still occurring in needle aponeurotomy and other techniques). His first published description was in Guillaume Dupuytren, De la rétraction des doigts par suite d’une affection de l’aponévrose palmaire, opération chirurgicale qui convient dans ce cas, Journal universel et hebdomadaire de médecine et de chirurgie pratiques et des institutions médicales, 2nd series; 5, (Paris 1831) p 352 - 365. Reprinted, in Medical Classics 4 (1939) p 127 - 150. Shortly afterwards appeared the more frequently cited English article Guillaume Dupuytren, Permanent retraction of the fingers, produced by affection of the palmar fascia., Lancet, vol. 2 (London 1833 -1834) p 222-225.

 

A description of his original technique to operate Dupuytren’s disease can e.g. be found in Adrian Flatt, The Vikings and Baron Dupuytren’s Disease, Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings 14/4 (2001) p 378 – 384. Link: http://www.bhcs.com/Proceedings/14_4/14_4_flatt.pdf   The article includes a picture of Dupuytren himself and examples of Dupuytren’s disease and related diseases, like knuckle pads or Ledderhose’s disease.

 

While Guillaume Dupuytren was an unusually talented surgeon, his personality was at least difficult. In his article Guillaume Dupuytren 1777-1835 (Hist Sci Med. 38/1 (2004) p 27 – 36) Pierre Vayre describes that “he never used any compromise either diplomatic solution … and he died in the same way as a real wolf” but also mentions his great sensibility. Another article describes Guillaume Dupuytren ‘as the greatest French surgeon of the 19th century, his name being associated with 12 different conditions or operations. He studied fracture healing and carried out extensive experiments on cadavers to elucidate the mechanism of fractures about the ankle. Dupuytren was a master of polemics and was known as "the greatest of surgeons and the meanest of men"’ (http://radiographics.rsnajnls.org/cgi/content/full/20/3/819). An good overview of Dupuytren’s life is also found in http://www.whonamedit.com/doctor.cfm/1104.html .

 

Guillaume Dupuytren also appears occasionally in “Master and Commander” novels by Patrick O’Brian, e.g. in The Mauritius Command  (Norton, New York, 1991) p 28 - 29 where Dupuytren is described as “a physiognomist and follower of Lavater”, developing nasty theories about “the English look”, and being “a French colleague” of the novel’s surgeon Steven Maturin. Also in The Surgeon’s Mate (Norton, New York, 1992) on p 138 (“Dupuytren lived just below … we used to share our corpses”) and p 333.

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