COPD

23 June 2008

The secret to Chopin's death

The heart of Frederic Chopin, one of the world's most cherished musical geniuses, could hold the secret to his untimely death.

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The heart of Frederic Chopin, one of the world's most cherished musical geniuses, could hold the secret to his untimely death.

The renowned 19th century Polish-French pianist and composer died at the age of 39, of what is believed to be tuberculosis.

But leading Polish medical experts are betting that DNA tests on his heart - perfectly preserved in what appears to be cognac – could prove he suffered from cystic fibrosis.

Their request to Poland's culture ministry for tissue samples to check for the CFTR gene marking cystic fibrosis sufferers has, however, sparked mixed feelings over the prospect of picking over a national icon.

Symptoms typical of cystic fibrosis
Leading Polish cystic fibrosis specialist Wojciech Cichy said the symptoms Chopin suffered throughout his life were typical of cystic fibrosis, a genetic illness which clogs the lungs with excess thick and sticky mucus.

"From early childhood he was weak, prone to chest infections, wheezing, coughing," Cichy said.

Records show that as an adult weighing 40 kg at a height of 1.70 m, Chopin was chronically underweight - another telltale symptom of cystic fibrosis.

Cichy also pointed out that despite a passionate romance with flamboyant French writer George Sand, Chopin had no known children, suggesting infertility - another telling clue. And few cystic fibrosis sufferers live past 40.

Inspiration for sufferers
"If we can prove Chopin suffered from cystic fibrosis, it would be a huge inspiration for our patients, especially children, to know they can accomplish a great deal like he did," Cichy told AFP.

Grzegorz Michalski, director of Poland's National Fryderyk Chopin Institute, said the last known time that the heart was examined was just after the end of World War II in 1945.

It showed that the heart was "perfectly preserved" in the hermetically-sealed crystal urn that was filled with an alcoholic liquid presumed to be cognac.

"Records show it is in perfect condition, so to tamper with it risks destroying it," Michalski said, adding that while one of two of Chopin's living descendents favours DNA testing, the other is staunchly opposed. – (Mary Sibierski/Sapa-AFP)

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COPD Centre

June 2008

 

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