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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Ep. 135 - Rob Burgess [VI]

Hello and welcome to The Rob Burgess Show. I am, of course, your host, Rob Burgess.
On this our, 131
st episode, our guest is … me!
My first solo episode of this podcast was
Episode 41, the second was Episode 62, the third was Episode 84, the fourth was Episode 117, and the fifth was Episode 131. And, on Episode 100, I was joined by my wife and regular guest Ash Burgess, who interviewed me.
I am a nine-time award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in print, radio, online, and television. I am currently News Editor of NUVO, where I was also a freelance reporter and photographer back in 2010 and 2011. Before that, I was Managing Editor of the Indiana Lawyer, and City Editor/Opinion Page Editor/Editorial Board Member at the Kokomo Tribune. I have previously worked as a reporter at WFHB, Times-Mail, The Reporter-Times, Ukiah Daily Journal, and Ukiah Valley Television.
Oh yeah, and I’m also the proprietor of the podcast, The Rob Burgess Show.

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Here are links to the Mütter Museum exhibits I mentioned:

The Soap Lady

The Soap Lady is the name given to a woman whose body was exhumed in Philadelphia in 1875. The specimen is unique because a fatty substance called adipocere encases the remains. Adipocere formation is not common, but it may form in alkaline, warm, airless environments, such as the one in which the Soap Lady was buried.

The first X-rays taken of the Soap Lady in 1986 revealed buttons and pins on her clothing that were not manufactured in the United States until the 1830s.

Dr. Joseph Leidy, known as the father of American vertebrate paleontology, procured the body of the Soap Lady after she was exhumed at a Philadelphia cemetery. He originally reported that she died in the Philadelphia yellow fever epidemic of the 1790s. Based on her lack of teeth, Leidy assumed that she had died in middle or old age.

The first X-rays taken of the Soap Lady in 1987 revealed buttons and pins on her clothing thatwere not manufactured in the United States until the 1830s. Leidy was wrong about her year of death.

A radiology team from Quinnipiac University led by Jerry Conlogue and Ron Beckett made a new set of digital and print X-rays in 2007. These images have allowed us to revise the Soap Lady’s age at death from about 40 to significantly younger, perhaps in her late 20s.


From the FAQ:

Why is the Museum called the Mütter?

The Museum is named for Thomas Dent Mütter, MD (1811 – 1859), a physician, professor, and Fellow of the College. In 1858 he bequeathed his entire teaching collection of more than 1,700 objects and specimens to the College, along with a substantial endowment. These objects became the core of the Mütter Museum and today we have more than 25,000 objects in the collection.


Hyrtl Skull Collection

The Mütter Museum acquired this collection of 139 human skulls from Viennese anatomist Joseph Hyrtl (1810-1894) in 1874. His work was an attempt to counter the claims of phrenologists, who held that cranial features were evidence of intelligence and personality and that racial differences caused anatomical differences. Hyrtl’s aim in collecting and studying the skulls was to show that cranial anatomy varied widely in the Caucasian population of Europe.


Human horn

This dried specimen from the Mütter Museum collection was removed from a 70-year-old woman. It was her second horn growth, and she had it for seven years before it was removed. It is 20 centimeters (about 8 inches) long and was donated to the Museum in the 1940s.

Cornu cutaneum growths, or cutaneuous horns, look similar to animal horns, but they have a different composition. They are compacted keratin protrusions of lesions that most often occur on areas of the body commonly exposed to the sun, like the face, hands, and forearms. About 60% of the reported cases of cutaneous horn lesions are benign. Women older than 50 who have had long-term sun exposure and many sunburns are more likely to have these growths than men.

The earliest well-documented case of a human cutaneous horn dates to 1588 and was that of Margaret Gryffith, an elderly Welsh woman. Another famous case is that of 17th-century Englishwoman Mary Davis, an aging widow who had horns on the back of her scalp. She was exhibited in London as a natural wonder. The Mütter’s own well-known wax model of Madame Dimanche, sculpted from life and shown to the right here, shows the face of an elderly woman with a large horn protruding from the top of her forehead and hanging down in front of her face. Her horn measured nearly 25 centimeters (10 inches) long.

Humans and horns share a twisted history. In mythology and folklore, horned humans represent devils, demons, and other nefarious creatures. It is easy to imagine that the strange sight of a horn on a human could inspire such stories.


Giant Megacolon

This colon belonged to a 29-year-old man who had complained of constipation for most of his life. The condition he endured is known as congenital aganglionic megacolon, or Hirschsprung’s disease. It occurs when nerve cells in part of the colon fail to develop and make it difficult for waste to move to the rectum (aganglionic means “without nerve cells”).

The subject was a normal infant up to the age of 18 months, with the exception of a rather large abdomen, coupled with irregularity of bowels and some constipation. His condition progressed, with the severity of the constipation increasing along with the size of his abdomen. By the age of 16 he would go up to a month at a time without any bowel movements. At 20 he was exhibited at a dime museum as the “Wind Bag” or “Balloon Man.”

During this man’s lifetime, doctors knew that his ailment was not a tumor but rather a defective colon. Surgery to identify and fix the cause would have been extremely risky. He ultimately died of the condition, and was found dead in a bathroom where he was attempting to pass waste.

In Hirschsprung’s disease, only a small section of the colon is usually affected, but the body is unable to transfer normal amounts of waste to any point below the affected section. Chronic constipation ensues. This condition occurs in 1 out of every 5,000 to 8,000 births. However, today it is usually identified soon after birth because the baby will have a distended bowel. It is easily corrected with surgery in which the affected portion of the bowel is removed and the “good ends” are sewn together.


Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva
Harry Eastlack

This is the skeleton of Harry Eastlack (1933-1973). Actually, you see two skeletons: the one that Eastlack was born with, and the one that formed from his skeletal muscles and other connective tissue as he aged.

Eastlack had a rare disorder called fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP). It is caused by a genetic mutation that transforms connective tissue, such as muscle, ligaments, and tendons, into bone. This results in progressive fusion of all the joints in the skeletal system. It occurs only in about 1 in 2 million births, and most cases are due to spontaneous genetic mutation rather than a heritable one.

FOP is difficult to diagnose because there are no visual signs at birth except for malformed great toes. Diagnosis usually occurs after the body begins creating bone following an injury or illness. First, the affected muscle becomes inflamed, then destroyed, then replaced with bone. Surgery to remove excess bone will worsen the condition. Unfortunately for Eastlack, this was not known when he was young. He endured several surgeries to remove excess bone, which only worsened his condition. By age 15, his jaw was permanently fused and he could no longer eat solid food. He died of pneumonia at age 39 after having spent years bedridden.

Eastlack requested that his skeleton be used to help scientists understand more about FOP. Researchers refer to the skeleton frequently, and it has been displayed at conferences attended by researchers and people who have FOP.

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