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Dominique Larrey (1766-1842)

Dominique LarreyDominique Larrey is regarded by many as the most outstanding surgeon of the Napoleonic era and one of the founders of military surgery. Born in the Pyrenees, he was orphaned at the age of 13 years. Under the supervision of an uncle who was a surgeon in Toulouse, Larrey studied medicine and later trained in surgery. In 1786, he went to Paris with the intention of completing his studies under Desault.  However, after of change of heart, he joined the French navy and become chief surgeon on the frigate Vigilante, traveling to North America. On returning to Paris he completed his studies as planned. When war broke out in 1792 he became assistant surgeon to the French army on the Rhine. He was the first to take first aid treatment to casualties on the battlefield with the introduction of ambulances and introduced the concept of triage in the evacuation of his patients. He saw service in Corsica and Spain before becoming professor of surgery at the medical school at Val-de-Grace. Larrey accompanied Napoleon on his expeditions to Egypt, Palestine and Syria and in 1805 was appointed Surgeon-in-Chief to the French army. He followed Napoleon to Germany, Poland and the ill fated assault on Moscow and in 1810 he was made a baron by Napoleon . At the battle of Waterloo he was shot and left for dead. He was eventually captured by the Prussians and sentenced to death. Having been recognised by the Prussian Field Marshall, Gerhard Blucher, he was freed and given safe passage to Belgium having earlier saved the life of Blucher's son.

During his career, Larrey participated in 25 campaigns and over 60 battles making a significant contribution to military medicine of the day. He was one of the first to described the therapeutic use of maggots and performed one of the first amputations at the hip (1812). The Clinique Chirugicale was the most significant of his publications. Larrey's name remains associated with an amputation of the shoulder joint, Mediterranean yellow fever and ligation of the femoral artery below the inguinal ligament.

This painting by Claude Gautherot shows Larrey tending to Napoleon at the battle of Ratisbon.  Napoleon I was exiled to St. Helena where he died. Napoleon died from gastric cancer on 5 May 1821.

Napolean at Ratisbon

Recent paper

Crumplin M K H.  The Myles Gibson military lecture:  surgery in the Napoleonic Wars.  J Roy Coll Surg Ed 2002;  47:  566-578.

O'Sullivan S T,  O'Shaughnessy M ,  O'Connor T P F.  Baron Larrey and cold injury during the campaigns of Napoleon.  Ann Plast Surg 1995; 34:  446-449.

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