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Theodor Kocher (1841-1917)

Theodor KocherTheodor Kocher was born in Bern, Switzerland in 1841. He was the second of six children born to an engineer and a deeply religious Protestant mother.  He spent most of his life in Bern being educated at the Humanistic Gymnasium and training at the University of Bern. He spent most of his subsequent professional life at his alma mater. He graduated in 1865 and in the same year published his thesis "Treatment of croupous pneumonia with veratrum compounds."  Except for a brief visit to England he never traveled extensively outside of continental Europe.  He was a student of Bernhard von Langenbeck in Berlin and Theodor Billroth in Vienna before being appointed Professor of Surgery in Bern in 1872 at the age of 31 years .

His main contribution to surgery was the in the field of thyroid surgery . During his professional life he performed over 2,000 thyroidectomies. In 1878, he described his early experiences with thyroidectomy for thyrotoxicosis which her performed with a mortality of 13%. By the time he published more detailed descriptions in 1883 his operative mortality had fallen to less than 1%. He recognised myxoedema after thyroidectomy which he described as "cachexia strumipriva".  This occurred after 30% of thyroidectomies at that time. He published almost 250 original publications and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1909 for his contribution to thyroid surgery.

His other significant contributions to surgery were descriptions of a manoeuvre to reduce a subluxed shoulder (1870), radical surgery for carcinoma of the tongue (1880) and an operation for inguinal hernias (1892). He introduced the use of sterilised silk sutures into his surgical practice in 1882. His name is associated with a toothed surgical clamp, an atraumatic bowel clamp and a curved director.  A sub-costal incision for an open cholecystectomy, a percondylar humeral fracture and a manoeuvre to mobilise the duodenum are also named after him.  He died suddenly at the age of 76 years from renal failure.

Recent paper

Liebermann-Meffert D.  Short story of Theodor Kocher's Life and relationship to the International Society of Surgery.  World J Surg 2000;  24:  2-9.

"Surgeons who take unnecessary risks and operate by the clock are exciting from the onlooker's standpoint but they are no necessarily those in whose hands you would choose to place yourself."

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