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Asmus Julius Thomas Thomsen

Born 1815
Died 1896

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Danish physician, born July 7, 1815, on the estate Brunsholm in the parish Esgrus on the peninsula of Angeln, Southern Schleswig, then Denmark; died February 3, 1896, Kappeln, at the river Schei, Angeln, Germany.

Biography of Asmus Julius Thomas Thomsen

Asmus Julius Thomas Thomsen was the son of the proprietor Jensenius Thomsen and his Wife Henriette von Barner. After completing his education at the cathedral school in Schleswig, Thomsen commenced his medical studies in Kiel in 1834, and subsequently studied medicine in Copenhagen and Berlin.

After a brief period as a physician in Gelting he practised medicine in Sieseby from 1840 and in 1853 moved to Kappeln, where he would later become district physician – Kreisphysicus – and medical advisor – Sanitätsrat. He remained in Kappeln for the rest of his life.

Thomsen suffered lifelong disability from muscle weakness and cramps, but with skill and consideration he was still able to maintain a busy practice even into high age. He died in Kappeln on February 3, 1896, at the age of 81 years. Of his six children a son and a daughter died in early infancy, one of his sons died of diphtheria at the age of ten years. His remaining three sons all had inherited the family disease.

He recognised that the condition was a heritable trait and his descriptions were based on more than 20 cases within his own family. In 1876, when he was 61 years of age, his youngest son, who had the disorder, was accused of trying to evade military service. Despite attests to his diseased condition the son was not freed from his military duties, but was considered a simulant and was enlisted on a trial basis. Following two months of medical examinations in Rostock, however, the military authorities were convinced and he was dismissed.

Thomsen reacted by writing the definitive account of the familial condition which he was able to trace back to his maternal great-grandmother, born in 1742. He was thus able to trace the disease carried through himself to his children and grandchildren, which is six generations. Ernst Adolf Gustav Gottfried von Strümpell (1853-1925) in 1881 suggested the term "Myotonia" congenita. The term "Thomsen's disease" was suggested by Karl Friedrich Otto Westphal (1833-1890) in 1883.

During his 36 years of practice, Thomson had come across only one comparable description, rendered by Charles Bell (1774-1842). Thomsen was unaware of Ernst von Leyden's description in 1874 of an early case of myotonia. As neither Bell nor von Leyden recognised the disease as a distinct entity, Thomsen's eponymic priority is indisputable.

Besides his works on myotonia Thomsen in 1855 wrote a monograph on medical history, "Ueber Krankheiten und Krankheitsverhältnisse auf Island and den Färöer-Inseln". He also wrote articles on typhus and poisonings. In a work on a case of foeticide he commented upon popular abortion drugs. In 1886 he revisited his first sphere of interest with an article titled "Beobachtungen über die Trunksucht und ihre Erblichkeit" ("Observations on alcoholism and its inheritability").

Thomsen was known for his literary interests. He wrote poems and patriotic songs for cultural journals and local newspapers. Some of his poems mirror his disease. Heinrich Marschner (1795-1861) wrote music for some of Thomsen's poems, among them "Die Tannschen Freischaren" - voluntaries under Freiherr Ludwig von und zu der Tann-Ratsamhausen in the German-Danish war of 1848-1850, the Schleswig-Holstein uprising against Denmark. This resulted in the German-Danish war of 1864, after which Schleswig-Holstein became a Prussian province.

Despite his German patriotism Thomsen was a great admirer of Danish literature: "Wie schön und reich ist doch die dänische Literatur", he wrote to his friend Heinrich Zeise (1822-1914), the poet, in 1847. He translated Danish poetry by, among others, Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875), publishing three anthologies in the years of 1838, 1847 and 1851.

We thank Dr. Günter Krämer, Zürich, Switzerland, for information submitted.

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