Birthplace: Magny-Vernois, France
Location of death: Paris, France
Cause of death: Pneumonia
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Executive summary: Surgeon at Hôtel Dieu
French anatomist and surgeon, was born at Magny-Vernois (Haute Saône) on the 6th of February 1744. He was destined for the church, but his own inclination was towards the study of medicine; and, after learning something from the barber-surgeon of his native village, he was settled as an apprentice in the military hospital of Belfort, where he acquired some knowledge of anatomy and military surgery. Going to Paris when about twenty years of age, he opened a school of anatomy in the winter of 1766, the success of which excited the jealousy of the established teachers and professors, who endeavored to make him give up his lectures. In 1776 he was admitted a member of the corporation of surgeons; and in 1782 he was appointed surgeon-major to the hospital De la Charité. Within a few years he was recognized as one of the leading surgeons of France. The clinical school of surgery which he instituted at the Hôtel Dieu attracted great numbers of students, not only from every part of France but also from other countries; and he frequently had an audience of about 600. He introduced many improvements into the practice of surgery, as well as into the construction of various surgical instruments. In 1791 he established a Journal de chirurgerie, edited by his pupils, which was a record of the most interesting cases that had occurred in his clinical school, with the remarks which he had made upon them in the course of his lectures. But in the midst of his labors he became obnoxious to some of the revolutionists, and he was, on some frivolous charge, denounced to the popular sections. After being twice examined, he was seized on the 28th of May 1793, while delivering a lecture, carried away from his theater, and committed to prison in the Luxembourg. In three days, however, he was liberated, and permitted to resume his functions. He died in Paris on the 1st of June 1795, the story that his death was caused by poison being disproved by the autopsy carried out by his pupil, Marie-François-Xavier Bichat. A pension was settled on his widow by the republic. Together with François Chopart (1743-1795) he published a Traité des maladies chirurgicales (1779), and Bichat published a digest of his surgical doctrines in Oeuvres chirurgicales de Desault (1798-99).
Wife: Marguerite Thouvenin (m. Jan-1782)
Son: Alexis Pierre Mathias (b. 1784, d. 1832)
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