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René Leriche

Born 1879
Died 1955

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French surgeon, born October 12, 1879, Roanne, Loire; died December 28, 1955, Cassis, near Marseille.

Biography of René Leriche

The son of a Roanne lawyer, René Leriche studied in Lyon and became an externe in 1899, interne 1902, and received his doctorate in 1906. From 1906 to 1909 he was Chef de clinique chirurgicale, 1919 Chirurgien des Hôpitaux in Lyon.

Leriche was habilitated in 1910 and in 1920 assumed the chair of experimental surgery in Lyon. From 1924 he was professor of clinical surgery in Strassburg, where his students counted future great names in brain surgery.

In 1931 Leriche returned to Lyon to become professor of external pathology. Leriche at this time had won international recognition, and in 1927 was elected honorary member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

Having been appointed in 1937, Leriche in 1938 Leriche moved to Paris to assume the chair of experimental medicine at the Collège de France, the first surgeon to be named to this, the premier chair in France. It had been held by such famed individuals as René-Théophile-Hyacinthe Laënnec (1781-1826), Claude Bernard (1813-1878), François Magendie (1783-1855), Charles-Édouard Brown-Séquard (1817-1894), Jaques-Arsène d'Arsonval (1851–1940) and Charles-Jules-Henri Nicolle (1866-1936) before Leriche was named in 1937. He dedicated his book La Chirurgie de la Doleur to their memory.

Although this is the most prestigious chair in France, the incumbent is not provided with clinical facilities in Paris, so Leriche operated at the American Hospital at Neuilly for the remaining years of his career. The occupant of the chair was required to deliver and publish a series of lectures each year and The Surgery of Pain in 1939 was the first publication to result from his lectures.

The book had its background in Leriche's experiences with the control of pain and surgery of the autonomic nervous system during World War I. He presents a comprehensive study of pain and its treatment in various diseases, and includes an excellent discussion of pain as an abstract concept.

Leriche emphasised the important of linking physiology and surgery and regarding the patient as a whole rather than concentrating on operative techniques. He himself was a first rate technical surgeon, with a great flair for teaching and innovation. He was a superb speaker who never required notes.

Leriche was a collegue of Alexis Carrel (1873-1944) before Carrel moved to America in 1904 «to forget medicine and raise cattle»". They did not like each other. Both were pupils of the surgeon Mathieu Jaboulay (1860-1913) in Lyon. Carrel was not honoured as Leriche, because of his close contacts with the Vichy government during the German occupation of France. Therefore, at the front side of the museum of modern art in Lyon you will find Jaboulay and Leriche but not Carrel.

However, if Carrel did not deserve a place at the front of the museum, Leriche probably did so even less:

    ”René Leriche accepted the position of President of the Conseil Supérieur de l'Ordre National des médecins, representative institution for the French medical community created by the Vichy government on October 7th 1940. As president of the Conseil Supérieur de l'Ordre National des Médecins until the 28th December 1942, he was responsible for all of the institution's actions of exclusion, repression, spoliation and denunciation of Jewish physicians in France.” Bruno Halioua
. René Leriche died in Cassis near Marseille an December 28, 1955. He was buried in Sainte-Foix, a village close to Lyon, where he came from.

The René Leriche Prize of the International Society of Surgery is named for him.

    "Physical pain is not a simple affair of an impulse, travelling at a fixed rate along a nerve. It is the resultant of a conflict between a stimulus and the whole individual."
    The surgery of pain.

    "The individual on whom we operate is more than a physiological mechanism. He thinks, he fears, his body trembles if he lacks the comfort of a sympathetic face. For him nothing will replace the salutary contact with his surgeon, the exchange of looks, the feeling that the doctor has taken charge, with the certainty, at least apparent, of winning."
    La philosophie de la Chirurgie. Foreword. Translated by Roberta Hurwitz.

    "Every surgeon carries about him a little cemetery, in which from time to time he goes to pray, a cemetery of bitterness and regret, of which he seeks the reason for certain of his failures."
    La philosophie de la Chirurgie. Part II, chapter I. Translated by Roberta Hurwitz.

We thank Detlef E. Rosenow and Matthew Fox for information submitted.

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