Medical Terminology Daily (MTD) is a blog sponsored by Clinical Anatomy Associates, Inc. as a service to the medical community. We post anatomical, medical or surgical terms, their meaning and usage, as well as biographical notes on anatomists, surgeons, and researchers through the ages. Be warned that some of the images used depict human anatomical specimens.

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A Moment in History

Jean-Louis Petit

Jean Louis Petit
(1674 – 1750)

French surgeon and anatomist, Jean Louis Petit was born in Paris in on March 13, 1674.  His family rented an apartment at his house to Alexis Littre (1658 – 1726), a French anatomist. Petit became an apprentice of Littre at seven years of age, helping him in the dissections for his lectures and at an early age became the assistant in charge of the anatomic amphitheater.

Because of Petit’s dedication to anatomy and medicine, in 1690 at the age of sixteen, became a disciple of a famous Paris surgeon, Castel.

In 1692, Petit entered the French army and performed surgery in two military campaigns. By 1693 he started delivering lectures and was accepted as a great surgeon, being invited to the most difficult operations.  In 1700 he was appointed Chief Surgeon of the Military School in Paris and in the same year he received the degree of Master of Surgery from the Faculty of Paris.

In 1715 he was made a member of the Royal Academy of Sciences and an honorary member of the Royal Society of London. He was appointed by the King as the first Director General of the Royal Academy of Surgery when it was founded in 1731.

Petit’s written works are of historical importance.  “Traite des Maladies des Os” ( A Treatise on Bone Diseases);  “Traite des Maladies Chirurgicales et des Operation” (A Treatise on Surgical Diseases and their Operations” This last book was published posthumously in 1774. He also published a monograph on hemorrhage, another on lachrymal fistula, and others.

He was one of the first to perform choIecystotomy and mastoidotomy. His original tourniquet design for amputations saved many in the battlefield and the design of the same surgical instrument today has not changed much since its invention by him.

His name is remembered in the lumbar triangle, also called the "triangle of Petit", and the abdominal hernia that can ensue through that area of weakness, the lumbar hernia or "Petit's hernia".

1. “Jean Louis Petit – A Sketch of his Life, Character, and Writings” Hayne, AP San Fran Western Lancet 1875 4: 446-454
2. “Oeuvres compl?tes de Jean-Louis Petit” 1837 Imprimerie de F. Chapoulaud
3. Extraits de l'eloge de Jean-Louis Petit Ius dans Ia seance publique de I' Academie royale de chirurgie du 26 mai 1750” Louis A. Chirurgie 2001: 126 : 475- 81

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William Harvey

This article is part of the series "A Moment in History" where we honor those who have contributed to the growth of medical knowledge in the areas of anatomy, medicine, surgery, and medical research.

William Harvey
William Harvey

William Harvey (1578 - 1609) English physician, physiologist, and anatomist. He was born in Folklestone, where his  father was the mayor.

Harvey studied at the King’s College in Canterbury, after which he entered Cambridge. He later traveled through France and Italy and continued his studies in Padua, where he graduated with an MD in 1602. He later returned to Cambridge to complete his Doctoral studies.

He became the Physician-In-Charge at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital.  It was at this time that he started a long process of scientific observation and logical reasoning that led him to postulate the circulation of the blood in his 1628 publication  "Excercitatio Anatomica de Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus"  (Anatomical Exercises on the Movement of the Heart and the Blood in Animals).

Harvey’s publication caused incredible controversy, as his proposed theory went against Galen’s theories and the idea that blood passed through "invisible pores" from the right to the left atrium of the heart. His main problem was that he could not prove the presence of capillaries, which were not observed until Antoine van Leeuwenhoek invented the microscope in the late 1600's.

In his book Harvey states ''It is absolutely necessary to conclude that the blood in the animal body is impelled as in a circle and is in a state of ceaseless motion: that this is the act or function which the heart performs by means of the pulse, and that it is the sole and only end of the motion and contraction of the heart”. Even today there are many that use the term “circulatory system” without realizing that the meaning “as in a circle” coined by William Harvey is present in it.

Although the first to consider the term “circulation” was Michael Servetus (1511 – 1553), his ideas were not completely evolved. Had he completed his research and studies Servetus could have precluded Harvey, but he was considered a heretic and burnt at the stake. Thankfully, Harvey was not!  

1. "William Harvey"Billimoria, A.  J Assoc Phys 60 (2012) 57
2.  “William Harvey” Foucar, HO. Can Med Assoc J 1951; 64(5): 452–453.
3. “William Harvey” McKecnie, EDJ, Robertson, C.  Resuscitation 55 (2002) 133-136
4. “William Harvey, an Aristotelian anatomist” Fara, P. Endeavour 21:2 (2007) 43–44
5. “The life and work of William Harvey” Keele, KD Endeavour 2:3 (1978) 104–107
Original image in the Public Domain. Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine