Biography of Vincenz Czerny
Vincenz Czerny, the son of an apothecary, took a great interest in local nature, particularly butterflies and other insects, when he was a boy. He commenced his medical study in Prague but moved on to Vienna to study under Ernst Wilhelm Ritter von Brücke (1819-1892). He graduated summa cum laude in Vienna on December 19, 1866 and subsequently worked at Ferdinand Ritter von Hebra's (1816.1880) skin clinic and Salomon Stricker’s (1834-1898) institute, and in 1867 became assistant to Johann Ritter von Oppolzer (1808-1871).
In 1868 Czerny was appointed assistant in Christian Albert Theodor Billroth’s (1829-1894) clinic, and with Billroth he visited the battlefields of the Prussian-Franco war in 1870. In 1871 he received an official appointment as associate professor and instructor in surgery at Vienna. Only six months later, in the winter that year, he was offered an office as ordinarius at the University of Freiburg im Breisgau, becoming director of the clinic there. While there, he married the daughter of Adolf Kussmaul (1822-1902).
In 1877 Czerny was appointed professor at Heidelberg, succeeding Gustav Simon (1824-1876). In this position he was in charge of a 120-bed hospital. In 1906 he founded the Institut für Experimentelle Krebsforschung, the most important of the early cancer institutes in Germany, financed by the Czernystiftung für Krebskranke and headed by him. Besides the cancer institute, with two departments serving research purposes, he also established a hospital for cancer patients – Heil- und Pflegeanstalt für Krebskranke – the "Samariterhaus". This hospital could serve 47 cancer patients. One of his collaborators in the hospital was the physician-in-chief, Richard Werner (1875-1943), a pioneer in X-ray treatment of cancer.
Czerny served as president of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Chirurgie (1901) and the International Surgical Congress (1908). In 1902 he became prorector of the university (the rector traditionally being the Grand Duke). When retiring in 1906, he continued to direct the Institute of experimental cancer research, and the Samariterheim, until he died of leukaemia in 1916.
Czerny’s importance to science on the one hand is in the development of operational techniques in cancer surgery and the treatment of inoperable cancer patients; on the other hand he devoted himself to all other fields of surgery, among them abdominal surgery and plastic surgery. In 1877 he authored a series of papers on a new, radical operation for inguinal hernia. In 1879 he performed the first total hysterectomy by the vaginal route, two years later he introduced the operation of enucleation of subperitoneal uterine fibroids by the vaginal route, and in 1880 he succeeded in a complete operative cure (pyelolithotomy) for a nephrolithiasis (kidney stone disease). This was the same year that Henry Morris (1844-1926), an English surgeon, first performed this operation, on a 31-year-old woman.