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July 21, 1978

In Search of Ondine's Curse

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Neurosurgery, Abraham Lincoln School of Medicine, University of Illinois at the Medical Center, Chicago.

JAMA. 1978;240(3):236-237. doi:10.1001/jama.1978.03290030054019

A CHRISTMAS Day article in the Chicago Tribune (Dec 25, 1977, pp 1, 26) describes a 16-month-old-child said to be "the only infant known to have beaten Ondine's Curse... a disorder which robs the body of breath." This curse, said the author, was derived from an old German folk tale: Ondine was said to be a sea nymph whose lover betrayed her. To punish him she cursed him with an inability to breathe. Actually, the aforementioned baby is not the only infant to have survived this disorder, which, as a clinical entity, is now well known to respiratory disease specialists, neurosurgeons, and pediatricians. There are, however, many physicians who are not familiar with the syndrome. In this article, I will discuss not the clinical aspects but the origin of the eponym.

The Legend  The term "Ondine's Curse" was first applied to patients by Severinghaus and Mitchell.1 In 1962 they