Biography of Gustav Simon
Gustav Simon attended the universities of Giessen and Heidelberg, receiving his medical doctorate at Giessen in 1848. That year he entered the Hessian Truppen-Korps as a military physician, first as a subordinate, then Oberarzt - chief physician – until 1861. During the same period he started practice to the poor – Armen-Praxis. In 1851 he published a book based on his first experiences with gunshot wounds during the Baden campaigns in 1848 and 1849.
Simon’s stay in Paris during 1851-1852 was decisive for the future direction of his surgical career. During a visit to Antoine Joseph Jobert de Lamballe’s (1799-1867) clinic, seeing Jobert’s excellent results, he wanted to try operating vesicovaginal fistulas.
With eight friends and colleagues, Simon subsequently founded a small hospital in Darmstadt for surgery and diseases of the eyes, and this was where Simon first distinguished himself in the field of fistula operations. Conducting his operations he saw that Jobert’s method, particularly his seem, needed perfectioning. He published on his own method in 1854, and from then on his success rate improved greatly – as did his reputation for fistula operations.
In 1861 Simon succeeded Karl Friedrich Strempel (1800-1872) as professor extraordinary of surgery at Rostock. In the same year he was appointed ordinarius and director of the surgical clinic, soon gaining the reputation of a dextrous operator. His first work in this period, published in Rostock 1862, concerns gynaecological plastic surgery. In his 1862 monograph on this he compares his “German” method to those of Jobert and the American gynaecologist James Marion Sims (1813-1883). During 1864 and 1865 several of his works were written while he was tied to sickbed due to a disturbance of the hip joint. Until 1866, when he could throw away his crutches, he was severely limited in his work at the clinic. In the summer of 1866, during the German-Austrian war, he headed the Vereins-Reserve-Lazareth in the Ulanen-Caserne near Moabit (an Ulan is a lancer in a Husar regiment).
After seven successful years in Rostock, Simon left in 1867, having accepted an invitation to Heidelberg, to succeed Karl Otto Weber (1827-1867), who had died unexpectedly.
At Heidelberg his scientific efforts received a new impulse when he was consulted by a woman who had successfully been operated for hystero-ovariotomy. However, there remained a urogenital fistula that could only be cured by extirpation of the healthy kidney.
This was done successfully on August 2, 1869, after he had proved with animals that one healthy kidney can take over the entire excretion process. This was the worldwide first successful kidney removal, one of the historic landmarks in urology, and from that time on kidneys were among Simon's favourite fields. In 1870 he extirpated a colossal congenital hydronephrosis, and in 1871 a stone kidney. This was described respectively in the first part of his Chirurgie der Nieren and in the second part (published posthumously in 1876), Operative Eingriffe bei Verletzungen und chirurgischen Krankheiten der Nieren und Harnleiter.
During the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871 Simon distinguished himself in his self-sacrificing work as physician general in the Baden Reserve-Lazarette
As he suffered from hip difficulties, he was bed-ridden from time to time were he wrote numerous publications from his sick bed. Simon died of a lung-compressing aneurysm of the aorta thorax; for lack of respiration he had had a tracheotomy performed on himself.
Simon was an autodidact in the true sense of the word, uninfluenced by the prejudices of any particular school of surgery, always staying in front, and critical of his own work.