'The Heart is Life'

'The Secrets of Cardiology Unfold' is based on Steve Boorn's International Thematic entry 'The Heart is Life' which was awarded a Large Silver medal at IBRA '99 at Nuremberg, a Vermeil medal at China '99 held in Beijing and a Vermeil medal at Stamp Show 2000 in London. This interesting and absorbing thematic entry has also been the subject of an in depth feature with numerous illustrations in Stamp Magazine.


By Steve Boorn

One of the earliest physicians was Imhotep (circa 2725BC), portrayed on Egyptian stamps, and regarded as the Egyptian god of medicine. He attributed the pulse rate as the resulting action of the heart. But the earliest written information on medicine is recorded on the Egyptian Ebers Papyrus. Illustrated on a stamp issue of Germany, the Papyrus take their name from the German Egyptologist, Georg Moritz Ebers who discovered them between 1869 and 1873. They are believed to date from around 1500BC and make mention of the heart's movement. Egypt 1992

Egypt 1992 World Health Day stamp


Kuwait 80 fils stamp
It was not until the time of Hippocrates (460-377BC), the father of medicine, that the heart was mentioned again in medical terms. He stated that the heart was a strong muscle and went on to describe its structure, and also hinted at the function of the heart's valves. Hippocrates appears on a stamp issue, 'Heroes of Medicine', of the Transkei.

A further 500 years passed before Claudius Galen (130-201AD), was to study the heart in any detail and is portrayed on a Hungarian stamp. It was this notable anatomist who laid the foundation of cardiac study and it was to be another 1400 years before any further significant progress in the study of the heart is recorded. Some of Galen's researches showed that he had made some misinterpretations, but this was inevitable. These included that the heart was not a muscle, that blood was delivered via the liver, and blood passed from one side of the heart to the other via the septum. These functions can be seen be seen on the stamps of Greece, Malta and Nigeria.


Special postmark for William Harvey
It was not until the 16th century that significant progress was made in recording the true function of the heart. One who tried to point out the errors of Galen's researches was Miguel Servet (1511-1553), who was condemned for heresy and was burnt at the stake with his writings. In those days to speak out against Galen was to refute the teaching of the Church. Adreus Vesalius (1514-1564) was luckier, being a graduate of Padua University Italy, which had a high reputation of intellectual freedom. The University assisted him in publishing his studies on the heart in 1545. Others who contributed to research on the heart were Abu Baker Razi - regurgitation of blood from the aorta, Avicenna Iba Szinna - basic circulation of the blood, and Iba Al Nafis - how an artery conveyed blood from the heart to the lungs. William Harvey

William Harvey is shown on a "Pioneers of Medicine" stamp issued by Hungary in 1978

It was also at Padua University that the great Englishman, William Harvey, graduated in 1602. It is interesting to note that Galileo was teaching at the University at this time. There are many stamps depicting Harvey, including Russia, Transkei, Argentina, Hungary and Grenada along with special postmarks and meter marks. The hospital, named after him at Ashford in Kent, has a distinctive meter mark, but no stamps from the Royal Mail. The Royal Mail rejected a request for a Harvey stamp in 1977. The time he spent at Padua gave him a good grounding in medicine and it was in 1616 that he correctly described how circulated the body from the heart into the arteries and returned via the veins. He also identified the heart as a pump and hinted at the existence of the capillaries, but without a microscope he had no means of telling the role that they play.

Denmark 1k

Denmark 1k stamp of 1992 for the 300th Anniversary of Stensen's "On Solid Bodies"
Both Vesalius and Harvey were greatly assisted by the anatomical drawings of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), who showed the structure of the heart. He achieved this by injecting a heart, taken from a corpse, with liquid wax; he also went on to produce detailed drawings of the coronary arteries. It was left to Marcelo Malpigi (1628-1694), to put the finishing touches to Harvey's work when in 1661 he described the network of pulmonary capillaries that connected the small veins to the small arteries. This was achieved by using a simple microscope, recently invented by Anton van Leeuwenhock (1632-1723), and shown on the stamps of Transkei and Antigua, and once and for all dispelled the ancient belief that blood is transformed into flesh on the surface of the body.

Following Harvey's work there was a greater understanding of the workings of the heart, and in 1664 the Danish anatomist, Niels Stensen proved definitively that the heart was a set of muscles. Then Albrecht von Hailer (1708-1777) explained the contractions of the ventricles and echoed Galen in stating the action of the heart was automatic, beating as it does and pumping 5,000 gallons of blood a day as it re-circulates it around the body - some pump!

The relationship between heart disease and 'sounding' the chest was developed by Jean N Corisart (1755-1821), unfortunately the French stamp shows his nephew L.R.F Corvisant! Corvisart was also mentor to Rene Laennec who invented the monaural stethoscope, still the single most important piece of a doctor's apparatus today.

By the beginning of the 19th Century most of the secrets of the heart had been discovered, along with some the prime reasons for heart failure. It was during the 1800s that Claude Bernard (1813-1878) discovered the function of the vasometer nerves that are responsible for regulating the blood supply by constricting or dilating the blood vessels, and Ivan Pavlov, the physiologist, detailed the physical and chemical actions of the heart. In the area of cardiovascular disease, Sir William Osler made a major scientific contribution to medical research.

As we move into the 20th Century, we have August Krough being awarded the Nobel Prize for his work on the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lung tissue and William Cushing performing pioneering work in experimental cardiac surgery. This US pioneer now has a hospital named after him at Framingham, Massachusetts.

Groote Christiaan Barnard, seen on a 1997 Medical Pioneers stamp from Dominica (above) pioneered heart transplantation at Groote Schuur Hospital, South Africa in 1967 Christiaan Barnard

These were exciting times in cardiology, but even greater events were to unfold and in 1967 you could be given a new heart! Yes, a heart transplant! Indeed, this is how this article came to be written, the author himself having received a "new heart" as explained below, and heart transplantation can now be found on the stamps of South Africa, Granada, Spain and Greece.

Steve Boorn 'The Heart is Life'. Never have four words meant so much! Steve Boorn received a heart transplant at Harefield Hospital in December 1991, performed by Prof. Magdi Yacoub and his team. Prof. Yacoub was awarded a knighthood by Her Majesty The Queen in the 1992 New Years Honours List.

In the early stages of recovery, following the transplant, Steve Boorn took up philately and decided to prepare a thematic collection based on the heart. Having struggled through post transplant surgery and all the effects of rehabilitation drug therapy, life is now just what the doctor ordered! Steve Boorn is President of Hayling Island and District Stamp Club, a member of the British Thematic Association and of the National Philatelic Society.

Last updated: 15th July 2001