Chopin's Pickled Heart Explains His Death

Scientists say they've been able to determine cause 'with high probability'
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 6, 2017 12:45 PM CST
Secret Viewing of Chopin's Pickled Heart Provided Answer
A bust of Chopin.   (Getty Images/mrtom-uk)

Frederic Chopin is buried in Paris' famed Père Lachaise Cemetery. His heart is not. The composer asked, on his deathbed in 1849 at age 39, that his heart be buried not in France, but in his native Poland (Nature reports that he feared being buried alive). And so it was done, with the AP in 2014 reporting on the heart's very secret exhumation on April 14 of that year from a pillar in Holy Cross Church in Warsaw. The scientists who participated took more than 1,000 photos of the organ, which sat pickled in a jar of alcohol, before bolstering the seal with hot wax and returning it to the pillar. That this happened at all wasn't revealed for five months, and now, three years later, a draft of an article published in the American Journal of Medicine asserts the mystery of his death has been solved: a complication of tuberculosis, scientists say.

The Guardian calls the article "the latest and most convincing foray into the long-running dispute" over what ate away at Chopin's health throughout his 30s, with other theories including cystic fibrosis or a genetic disease that could have increased the risk of lung infections. Though the jar with his heart remained sealed, just by viewing its state "we can say, with high probability, that Chopin suffered from tuberculosis while the complication pericarditis was probably the immediate cause of his death," says team leader Michal Witt. What they spotted: a white coating that makes it look "frosted," per the New York Times, along with small lesions. Nature notes some continue to doubt the heart is even Chopin's. The question of whether to open the jar for DNA testing won't be relevant until 2064, when the next inspection of the heart is planned. (Exhumation, dental records proved an infamous serial killer didn't cheat death after all.)

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