William Harvey Biography

William Harvey (1 April 1578 – 3 June 1657). Scientist and Physician of English origin, who was the first to discover and publish evidence demonstrating the cycle of blood circulation within the human body.


He also pioneered the description of the heart as a bomb, in addition to his precise observations of the reproductive cycle and embryonic development.

Early life

William Harvey was born on 1 April 1578, in Folkestone, Kent, England, to one of ten children of the landowner’s marriage. He began his studies at the King’s School in Caterbury. Later, between 1593 and 1599, he studied Art and Medicine at the universities of Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge.

After graduating he continued his medical studies at the University of Padua, where he had the opportunity to be an anatomy student of the surgeon Hieronymus Fabricius, who by then had already recognized inside the human veins a series of valves unidirectional, despite not understanding its function.

Eventually, Harvey would clear up the unknown. In 1602, he obtained his doctorate and returned to England, in order to pursue his career.

Career as a Physician

In 1604, he married Elizabeth Browne, daughter of Lanzarote Browne, personal physician to King James I. According to some historians, the marriage was happy, although they had no children. He was also key to the rise of Harvey’s career, which stood out for being solid and stable.

From 1607, he became a member of the Royal College of Physicians, an organization to which he would remain for life.

In 1609 he was appointed as a Physician at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, where he practiced for 34 years, until 1643 when he was retired by Parliament, due to his support for the monarchy. In 1615 he was appointed Professor Lumleian in Surgery at the Royal College, a position he held for 41 years, until 1656.

In parallel, William Harvey was appointed in 1618 as king to King James I, leading the group of physicians who tried to save the sovereign’s life. He was also a key part of the trial that was made on charges of poisoning the king, against the Duke of Buckingham, George Villiers.

In 1625, he was rewarded by the successor king, Charles I, who also took him as a doctor. Harvey and the monarch syllabuted friendship. Some historians point out that Charles I enjoyed Harvey’s exposure on some interesting medical cases. He was also allowed to conduct some of his experiments with the real servants.

Circulation cycle

During 1618 and 1619, he conducted experiments, based on observing heart function and blood flow in living animals, through which he concluded that blood flows around the body, breaking with the belief that he had up to that point to be a constantly produced fluid, given the need caused by the consumption of it by the organs of the body.

Harvey noted that blood is a fluid that circulates throughout the body through the veins and arteries.

He also discovered that the function of the unidirectional valves discovered by his professor Hieronymus Fabricius was to propel the blood forward, preventing it from returning, causing it to flow in a one-way direction, to the center of the system: the heart. Similarly it was close to the exact amount of blood contained in the human body, as well as in which it is able to pump the heart for a minute.

Harvey also thoroughly studied the behavior of the heart and its heartbeat, concluding that when the heart contracts, it decreases its volume, expelling the blood from its interior with great force, so that it continues its circulation through the body.

Harvey was the first to understand the heart as an organic bomb. He first exhibited his results in 1618, before the College of Physicians of England. Twelve years later, in 1628, he published his Anatomical Study of the Movement of the Heart and Blood of Animals. His conclusions were received with great acceptance in his country, although he did not run with the same fate in the rest of Europe.

Aware that it would not be easy to reveal to the world of medicine concepts that involved changing established conceptions, he devoted years to the collection of evidence and results, before publishing in 1649 (thirty-one years after his first experiments) his two Anatomical Exercises in the Circulation of Blood, which according to some specialists was a public response to the anatomist Jean Riolan, staunch critic of his Theory of Circulation.

Support for the monarchy and final years

In his personal life, Harvey stood out for being a fervent follower of the monarchy. He accompanied Charles I during the wars against the Scottish rebels during 1639, 1640 and 1641. He also showed his support and remained at his king’s side during the battles of the Civil War of England against the Puritans, developed between 1642 and 1646.

In 1642 he suffered one of the worst setbacks of his career, when his personal library was destroyed during a rant at his home in Whitehall by parliamentarians. After the defeat of the monarchy, he accompanied Charles I in his captivity, and after his execution returned in 1647, to London.

In 1651, he published his last work, under the title Exercises in the Generation of Animals where he collected his observations on the reproductive cycle and embryonic development, which are considered by science to be quite accurate. By the age of seventy, his health had improved greatly, due to kidney problems.

He is believed to be suffering from Drop. Similarly, some historians point out that at that time he may have tried to take his own life, poisoning himself with an opium-based substance called laudane. Finally, at the age of 79, William Harvey died of a stroke.

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William Harvey Biography
Source: Education  
July 27, 2019


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