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10 Diseases Named After People


7
Wegener's Granulomatosis
Sixteen-year-old Bailey Knaub poses with some of the items she received after a visit with Tim Tebow. Knaub has endured 73 surgeries since being diagnosed with Wegener's Granulomatosis at age 7. Cyrus McCrimmon/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Sixteen-year-old Bailey Knaub poses with some of the items she received after a visit with Tim Tebow. Knaub has endured 73 surgeries since being diagnosed with Wegener's Granulomatosis at age 7. Cyrus McCrimmon/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Sometimes, a disease named after a person has to be renamed because disturbing information later comes to light. One such case is Friedrich Wegener, a celebrated German pathologist. Working off of a description of a rare disorder first described by a German medical student in 1931, Wegener wrote about three additional cases and figured out that they were all the same distinct form of vasculitis, which is an inflammation of the blood vessels. Eventually this disease became known as Wegener's granulomatosis [source: The Johns Hopkins Vasculitis Center].

Wegener's, which typically strikes people in middle age, can affect any area of the body, although it tends to be found in the kidneys, lungs and upper respiratory tract. Symptoms are wide ranging and can include frequent sinus infections, ear infections that are slow to clear, a collapsed nose bridge due to cartilage inflammation and kidney inflammation that can lead to renal failure. Wegener's was almost always a fatal condition until the 1970s, when new pharmaceutical treatments changed it into a chronic condition [source: The Johns Hopkins Vasculitis Center].

In 2011, Mayo Clinic rheumatologist Eric Matteson was researching an article on Wegener and discovered he had a sordid past. Wegener had been a member of the Nazi Party and the Sturmabteilung (the "brown shirts"), a paramilitary organization that terrorized opponents of Hitler. Wegener had also worked in an office in Lodz, Poland, where medical experiments were conducted on Jewish and gypsy prisoners held in the nearby ghetto. Matteson successfully pushed three medical societies to rename Wegener's granulomatosis as "granulomatosis with polyangiitis (Wegener's)"; eventually the societies plan to simply call the disease "granulomatosis with polyangiitis" [source: Benson].


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