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 Nikolay Pirogov

Born:   25 November 1810
Deceased:   December 5 1881

World-famous Russian surgeon


Nikolay Ivanovich Pirogov, world-famous doctor and surgeon, was born in Moscow to the family of the treasurer. Nikolay’s father had 14 children, many of which died in infancy. Nikolay had 5 brothers and sisters, being the youngest of them all.

Pirogov owed his education of a family friend, a doctor and professor of Moscow State University, who noticed the boy’s talents and started giving him individual lessons. Upon turning 14, Nikolay entered the faculty of medicine in Moscow State University, having lied that he was 16.

Pirogov liked studying. The boy had to work in order to help his family and finally got a position of prosector in local anatomy theatre. That job gave him a priceless experience in anatomy and promoted his desire to become a surgeon. Pirogov graduated from the university among best students and headed for Yuriev University in Derpt, which was the best in Russia at that time, for preparing for his professorship.

The young man spent 5 years in local surgery clinic and brilliantly defended his PhD, thus becoming Doctor of Medicine, being only 26 years old. His dissertation was dedicated to abdominal aorta bandaging, which was to date performed only once and ended with patient’s death. Nikolay Pirogov was the first to describe abdominal aorta topography or its arrangement in human body, circulatory disturbances while bandaging, and blood circulation pathways during aorta obstruction, as well as explained the reasons of post-surgery complications. Pirogov suggested two ways of accessing aorta – transperitoneal and extraperitoneal approaches.

After that, Pirogov went to Berlin for training, however, his perfect teacher waited for him in Goettingen. Professor Bernhard Langenbeck taught Russian surgeon everything he knew. While travelling home, Pirogov fell ill in Riga and after recovery, starting performing surgery on those who needed it. The word about the genial surgeon started spreading around. When Pirogov returned to Derpt, he leant that the department in Moscow, which he intended to head, was under another professor. However, the surgeon wasn’t unhappy – Professor Moyer left the surgeon his clinic in Derpt. In that clinic Pirogov laid the foundation of a new science – surgical anatomy. The surgeon published his fundamental work “Surgical anatomy of arterial trunks and fascia”. Pirogov taught surgeons to use anatomy for better surgery and for correct bandaging of arteries. The medic made heaps of operation descriptions, which were accompanied with extremely accurate and detailed drawings.



Then the surgeon went to France, and later, in 1841 was invited to head surgery department in St. Petersburg Academy of Surgery and Medicine, where he spent over 10 years and opened first Russian surgery clinic. In his clinic the medic founded another branch of medical science – hospital surgery. Pirogov became famous – his lectures were attended not only by medicine students, but also by other people, who have heard about the genius. Newspapers dedicated him articles, comparing the surgeon’s lectures with performance of famous Italian singer.

Nikolay Pirogov got a position of director in the Instrument plant, where he invented equipment for performing fast and accurate surgical operations. The surgeon accepted all appointments in hospitals, consulting local medics. However, the surgeon was surrounded with not only people, who loved him, but those, who envied him. Second year in St. Petersburg brought ill health for the surgeon, who had to spend about 1.5 months in bed. While recovering, Pirogov decided he needed a family and married Ekaterina Berezina, a young woman from a noble but bankrupt family. The wedding wasn’t a festive one – the medic didn’t have time for that. His wife gave birth to two sons and died during delivery at the fourth year of their marriage.

During those desperate days, Pirogov’s project of first Anatomy Institute in the world was approved by the tsar. On October 16, 1846, first test of ether anaesthesia was performed, and first surgery under anaesthesia happened on February 7, 1847 by Pirogov’s friend Fedor Inozemtsev. The following week Pirogov performed his own surgical operation with anaesthesia. During 1847 670 operations with anaesthesia were performed in Russia, and 300 of them were made by Nikolay Pirogov.



Treating fractures
As soon as Nikolay Pirogov was sent to Caucasus, he started performing surgery on wounded soldiers, using ether anaesthesia, with a total of 10 000 operations. One day, when Pirogov visited local market, he saw how butchers cut frozen cow bodies and noticed how well positions of all internal organs could be seen. Later he tried the technique in the anatomy theatre, cutting frozen corpses with a special saw. That was how new medical discipline – topographic anatomy – was born. Saw-cuts helped compiling first handbook of anatomical charts, which allowed surgeons to perform operations, doing minimal harm to a patient. That handbook and Pirogov’s technique became the basics for further development of operative surgery.

After his wife died, Pirogov and his sons felt very lonely. The surgeon tried to marry twice, but these attempts failed, being money marriages. Finally, the surgeon proposed a marriage to 22-year-old baroness Alexandra Bistrom, and she accepted it.

When Crimean War began in 1853, Pirogov considered going to the war theatre in Sevastopol to be his civil duty. The surgeon was the first to apply plaster bandage while operating, which accelerated fracture recoveries and saved many people from extremity curvatures. Another great achievement of Nikolay Pirogov was introduction of triage, when some wounded people were operated immediately, and some were evacuated after first-aid treatment. Pirogov introduced new type of medical aid – medical nurses started helping injured soldiers. Therefore, Nikolay Pirogov was also the father of military field medicine.

After fall of Sevastopol, Pirogov returned to St. Petersburg and reported to Tsar Alexander II about Prince Menshikov, a mediocre army administrator. However, the tsar didn’t listen to the surgeon, who then fell into disgrace. Pirogov left the Academy of Medicine and Surgery and plunged into problems of education in Odessa and Kiev regions. His activities provoked a conflict with local authorities, and Pirogov was forced to leave his position. Nikolay Pirogov settled down in his estate “Vishnya” (“Cherry”), where opened a free-of-charge hospital. The surgeon left his place only when he went abroad to read lectures.

At that time Nikolay Pirogov was a full member of several foreign academies of sciences. In May 1881, scientists and medics of Moscow and St. Petersburg celebrated 50th anniversary of Pirogov’s research activities. Unfortunately, the surgeon was already terminally ill and died in December of the same year in his estate. Not long before his death, Pirogov made one more discovery – he developed a unique technology of embalmment – dead body preservation. Embalmed body of the genial surgeon is still in the church of his estate. Pirogov made surgery the science, equipping medics with scientifically based techniques of surgical intervention.


Kizilova Anna


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