World’s Super Scientists – William Harvey

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Heart, the Most Revered Organ in the Body Pumps Blood, the Elixir of  Life – William Harvey

William, Harvey (1578-1657), English physician, discoverer of circulation of blood in the body was born at Folkstone on April 1, 1578 (not April Fool anyway, but an intellectual and immortal soul).

Scientist William Harvey discovery revealed a truth which is a fundamental fact in physiology.

Scientist William Harvey studied under Fabricius Aquapendente, the great anatomist in Padua, Italy, in the world-renowned School of Medicine in those days. Fabricius had found that the veins in the human body contained valves which prevented the flow blood from any direction except towards the heart.

This teaching gave the stimulus for thought to Harvey to proceed with his later work. The great Galileo was one of his teachers.

After obtaining the degree of Doctor of Medicine at Padua he came to London to set up his practice. In 1609 he was appointed as physician at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, a prestigious institution.

The human heart consists of four chambers, the right and left atrium and the right and left ventricle.

Galen from the first century AD, Fabricius and Sylvius, and 17th Century anatomists held the following view :

The blood originated from the liver and was of two different kinds. One kind came from the right ventricle of the heart and traveled through the body by way of veins.

The other kind can from the left ventricle and traveled through the body by way of the arteries. Thus both streams were believed to be quite distinct.

For years Harvey had been dissecting the bodies of fish, animals, frogs, snakes, rabbits, etc. In those days, cutting a dead human body was considered as an act against the will of God. Harvey used to enter the mortuary of St.General Studies Question Bank CD

Bartholomew’s Hospital at nights, cut open the heart after few hours after death. It took 12 years for him to make sure that the circulatory system of animals and human beings was alike.

Scientist William Harvey opened a vein and introduced a probe in it and discovered that the probe could be pushed one – way only, i.e., towards the heart but not in the opposite direction, confirming the teaching of Fabricius (valves in veins) loc. cit.

The valves in the arteries permitted flow of blood away from the heart. The prevailing idea that blood travelled through the veins from the right ventricle vide supra was not justifiable, according to Harvey.

He observed that the heart in a living being moves up and down, functions like a pump; arteries pulsate synchronously with the heart-beat. In 1628 he propounded a theory that there were not two different kinds of blood in the body, vide supra.

Blood was only one product, whether in the veins or arteries. He opined that one mass of blood passed round and round (called circulation) being driven on its movement by the heart; Harvey called heart as the body’s motor.

The blood was pumped from the heart, passed through the body in a “kind of circle” and returned back to the heart. The blood stream was in continuous circulation/motion.

Scientist William Harvey even estimated that the human heart pumped about two ounces of blood per each “stroke”. The heart pumps more than a gallon of blood a minute, i.e., more than 1,500 gallons a day!

Scientist William Harvey’s reputation began dwindling for this revolutionary idea — “it was believed by the vulgar that he was crackbrained”. All the physicians were against him. However, throttling bottle-necks do not jeopardize the triumph of truth in any venture. Truth establishes itself, in right earnest, at last.

King Charles I gave encouragement to Harvey who continued his research on anatomy. He was present at the battle of Edgehill which gave him tremendous opportunities in dissection of dead bodies, etc.

Scientist William Harvey’s discovery took shape in the 16th century when no research tools backed by electronic, computer-designed, sophisticated facilities were available (as in the present day).

At the age of 68 Scientist William Harvey was disabled with gout. On June 3,1657 he was struck down by paralysis.

An oration on his name was instituted. The Harvey Oration is still delivered annually.

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The successful and durable heart transplant done in 1995 by an Indian Surgeon belonging to Andhra Pradesh in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi was an epoch-making event in the history of world Medicine.

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