The Case of the Wounded Woodsman and His Dedicated Physician

Albert B. Lowenfels, MD


September 02, 2009


By a fortunate coincidence, William Beaumont -- a young, resourceful, relatively inexperienced US Army surgeon -- happened to be stationed in a remote fort on the western frontier of the United States when Alexis St. Martin, a French-Canadian voyager, received a near-fatal gunshot wound of the chest. St. Martin survived, but was left with a permanent gastric fistula, permitting Beaumont to perform a series of unique experiments that greatly expanded our knowledge of gastric physiology.

Traditionally, St. Martin's physician has received full recognition for the brilliant series of experiments carried out under primitive conditions. However, St. Martin also should be credited for participating in tedious, repetitive experiments that must have been disagreeable and sometimes painful.[9] Although not always cooperative, he should be remembered as being perhaps the first of that special group of human "guinea pigs" who have done so much to advance the progress of medicine. Two centuries later, physicians and patients remain indebted to Beaumont and Alexis St. Martin -- Beaumont's often reluctant patient.


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