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March 1964

On the Study of the HeartA Comment on Autopsy Techniques

Arch Intern Med. 1964;113(3):318-322. doi:10.1001/archinte.1964.00280090004002

Harvey's lament "... that the motion of the heart [is] to be understood by God alone" may have given way a bit to modern methods of examination. But when, in the latter half of the 20th century, one gazes on a postmortem specimen of the heart, opened after the fashion of most American pathologists, he may feel inclined to agree with Harvey. And the matter is made even less favorable by the usual method of preserving heart specimens obtained at autopsy. Who has failed to feel the hopelessness of the student who, faced with a dripping, evil-smelling mass of unidentifiable tissue just fished out of a formaldehyde-filled crock, is asked to discern the cardiac effects of rheumatic fever or syphilis or hypertension? At best, he will be able to make out mutilated fragments of vulvular cusps, avulsed chordae tendineae, and triangular appendages of myocardium. But to reconstruct the whole is