The Giant Chasers - Harvey Cushing and John Hunter

James L. Stone, MD1, James Goodrich, MD, PhD1, Kenji Muro1

1Evanston, IL United States

Keywords: History, Harvey Cushing, surgery, technique, acromegaly

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     Harvey Cushing (HC) and John Hunter (JH), notable scientific surgeons of the 20th and 18th centuries believed Gigantism held a key to the understnding of growth. For HC a giant likely harbored a pituitary tumor which secreted a growth enhancing hormone during childhood and adolescence. To the philosophical JH, a giant represented an aberration of nature but clear proof of a pluripotential, plastic, non-creationistic nature existing in all living animals. JH was an avid collector of rare specimens for his museum.
     The available literature sources of HC and JH and their interest in Gigantism was surveyed.
     In 1911 and 1783 HC and JH respectively bribed undertakers. HC sent two Johns Hopkins surgical residents (Crowe and Sharp) to remove the pituitary and all other endocrine glands from his former patients'''' cadaver in a coffin, barely accomplished before the open casket service began. JH hired a ''''resurrectionist'''' associate to intoxicate the funeral procession, remove the giant''''s body from the sealed coffin, and replace it with heavy stones before burial at sea.
     This is a retrospective review.
     HC, a pioneer in endocrinology, sought to study the giant''''s pituitary tumor and its surgical relations. JH in his rush to conceal and collect the rare giant skeleton overlooked his thorough autopsy which would have revealed a pituitary tumor. Possibly endocrinology would have had an earlier birth.
     The clandestine actions of both HC and JH in their quest of the giant cadaver are entertaining and instructive examples of the scientific determination and zeal in our surgical ancestors.


Project Roles:

J. Stone (), J. Goodrich (), K. Muro ()