“Post Mortem” Diagnosis: Present-Day Ailments Plagued Some of History’s Great Figures

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“Post Mortem” Diagnosis: Present-Day Ailments Plagued Some of History’s Great Figures

Book Being Released on April 6 Re-examines 12 Puzzling Medical Cases

PHILADELPHIA, April 2, 2007 - Medical science has made great leaps in the last several decades, but -- as “Post Mortem: Solving History’s Great Medical Mysteries” by Philip A. Mackowiak, MD, MBA, FACP, reveals -- some of our “modern” illnesses have been around for centuries.

Published by the American College of Physicians (ACP), “Post Mortem” endeavors to solve 12 of history’s most perplexing medical mysteries:

  • Whether Alexander the Great was a victim of West Nile virus.
  • What Edgar Allan Poe really died of.
  • The cause of Pharaoh Akhenaten's bizarre appearance - the father of King Tut was described as a "humanoid praying mantis."
  • The cause of Booker T. Washington’s abrupt decline.
  • The shocking cause of Beethoven's deafness.
  • The disease responsible for Christopher Columbus' crippling arthritis.
  • The microbe that ended Greece's Golden Age.
  • What contemporary physicians could have done to save Mozart from his final illness.
  • Whether Roman Emperor Claudius was poisoned or died of natural causes.
  • Joan of Arc’s mental state during her heresy trial.
  • Why Florence Nightingale took to her bed for nearly three decades.
  • The gruesome details of King Herod’s terminal illness.

“Dr. Mackowiak is one of today’s most creative and accomplished medical historians,” said John Tooker, MD, MBA, FACP, Executive Vice President/CEO, ACP. “His clinical expertise and entertaining writing style make ‘Post Mortem’ appealing to the general public, physicians, and medical students.”

Part medical mystery book, “Post Mortem” traces 3,500 years of the history of medicine from the perspective of what contemporary physicians thought about the diseases of these 12 famous patients and how they might have treated them. The medical histories presented are the most comprehensive ever compiled for these 12 titans of history.

"’Post Mortem’ looks at the medical conditions of important historical figures as something more than footnotes to their lives,” Mackowiak said. “In many instances their illnesses profoundly affected their legacies.”

Each case is organized according to the standard format used by physicians in clinical practice today. The history of the present illness (i.e., the illness in question) is given first, followed by the subject’s past medical history, social history, family history, and physical examination (based on historical records).

To heighten the reader’s suspense, the identity of the patient is not revealed until the end of the case history, when Dr. Mackowiak leads the reader through a list of diagnostic possibilities to the one diagnosis most consistent with the illness described in historical records.

Although “Post Mortem” is the work of an eminent clinician and medical educator, the book is written for both the general public and the medical community. It covers a novel area of history, inspired by the annual Historical Clinicopathological Conference hosted by Dr. Mackowiak since 1995 for the VA Maryland Health Care System and the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

The conference attracts a broad range of attendees: the general public, historians, physicians, physicians-in-training, and high school students.

“Post Mortem” will be available at bookstores everywhere on April 6 or directly from the American College of Physicians at www.acponline.org/postmortem or by calling ACP Customer Service at 800-523-1546, ext. 2600, or 215-351-2600.

Dr. Mackowiak is Director of Medical Care at the VA Maryland Health Care System and Professor and Vice Chairman of the Department of Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He has studied and taught the art of clinical diagnosis to medical students and graduate physicians for over three decades.

The American College of Physicians (www.acponline.org) is the largest medical specialty organization and the second-largest physician group in the United States. ACP members include 120,000 internal medicine physicians (internists), related subspecialists, and medical students. Internists specialize in the prevention, detection, and treatment of illness in adults.

ACP works to enhance the quality and effectiveness of health care by fostering excellence and professionalism in the practice of medicine. Its publishing program includes the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, electronic products, and books for the medical community and general reader.

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