Mykola Pirogov’s (1810-1881) illness mystery. Computed tomography and 3D reconstruction of the head of the famous surgeon's mummy




Mykola Ivanovych Pirogov, re-embalming, computed tomography, 3D scanning, malignant tumor, cancerous ulcer of the oral cavity


Introduction. It is known that at the age of 70, the outstanding surgeon Mykola Pirogov suffered from pain and a wound of the palate on the right and had problems with eating. He was consulted by well-known doctors M.V. Sklifosovskyi, E. von Wahl, V.F. Grube, E.I. Bohdanovskyi and the famous surgeon T. Billroth, convincing him that the ulcer was benign.
On the fourth day after his death, on the initiative of his wife Baroness
O.A. von Bistrom, Pirogov's body was embalmed by permission of the church.
Case report. In 2018, M.I. Pirogov's body was re-embalmed in Vinnytsia according to the original method by scientists of Vinnytsia National Medical University and the National University of Life and Environmental Sciences of Ukraine.
The remains were examined using a 32-slice computer tomograph Siemens "Somatom go. Up" (Germany) with 3D reconstruction of the entire body and the head of great surgeon. According to the protocol, the slices thickness was 0.8 mm, the voltage was 110‒120 kV, the current strength was 30‒230 mA, the thickness of reconstructions was 0.8 to 3.0 mm.
Modern technologies made it possible to see destructive changes in the bones of the skull and establish the cause of Mykola Pirogov's illness and death. The 3D reconstructions prove the fact that Pirogov's diagnosis was correct. The existing bone changes indicate widespread malignancy, most likely cancer in the mouth, nasopharynx, and pterygopalatine fossa on the right.
Discussion. Natural and anthropogenic mummies are important for history and science, as they can tell us about the health conditions and lifestyle of people in the past.
Computed tomography is a non-destructive technique, and is therefore considered the gold standard for studying mummies. This method is also used during the embalming procedure and monitor the degree of preservation of the mummified body. Currently, computed tomography is widely used in mummy research to non-invasively assess the natural or anthropogenic origin, mummification embalming technique, bone and soft tissue preservation parameters, age, constitution, health status, cause of death, post-mortem injuries, etc.
Conclusions. The use of computed tomography followed by 3D reconstruction is highly likely to not only predict the future, but also shed light on the mysteries of the past.

Author Biographies

Mykola Y. Polishchuk, Shupyk National Healthcare University of Ukraine, Kyiv

Department of Neurosurgery

Oleg P. Melnyk, National University of Life and Environmental Sciences of Ukraine, Kyiv

Academician Volodymyr Kasyanenko Department of Animal Anatomy, Histology and Pathomorphology

Ivan V. Shevchuk, Diagnostic Center "Mediskan", Vinnytsia

Diagnostic Center "Mediskan"

Oleg P. Robak, Romodanov Neurosurgery Institute, Kyiv

Department of Neuroradiology


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How to Cite

Polishchuk, M. Y., Melnyk, O. P., Shevchuk, I. V., & Robak, O. P. (2023). Mykola Pirogov’s (1810-1881) illness mystery. Computed tomography and 3D reconstruction of the head of the famous surgeon’s mummy. Ukrainian Neurosurgical Journal, 29(1), 48–53.



Case Report