Illustration of human viscera by Paulo Mascagni, from his Anatomia Universa (1823-31) – Source: Wellcome Library, London.
Paolo Mascagni (January 25, 1755 – October 19, 1815) was an Italian physician and anatomist. He is most well known for publishing the first complete description of the lymphatic system.
Mascagni was born in the comune of Pomarance (in the Province of Pisa) to Aurelio Mascagni and Elisabetta Burroni, both belonging to old gentry families of Chiusdino.
He studied philosophy and medicine at the University of Siena. Upon graduating in 1777, renowned anatomist Pietro Tabarrini took Mascagni as an assistant. Upon Tabarrini’s death in 1780, Mascagni was appointed as an anatomy lecturer at the University of Siena.
As a young man, Mascagni was interested in geological sciences, as evidenced by his several papers on the Lagoni (thermal springs) of Siena and Volterra. Upon graduation, he turned his interest to the human lymphatic system. His many discoveries in this field led to the composition and publication of Vasorum lymphaticorum corporis humani historia et iconographia in 1787.
For this reason, he spent seven months in prison after the French were expelled. Mascagni was freed from prison by a motu proprio of the King of Etruria, who on October 22, 1801 appointed Mascagni a professor of anatomy at the University of Pisa, with the additional charge of lecturing twice a week at the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova in Florence.
In 1807, Mascagni was appointed professor of anatomy at the University of Florence. There, he wrote Treatise of Anatomy.
In the 1950s, photojournalist Lennart Nilsson set out to capture the earliest stages of existence.
In April 1965, Life magazine put a photograph called Foetus 18 Weeks on its cover and caused a sensation.
The issue was a spectacular success, the fastest-selling copy in Life’s entire history. In crystal clear detail, the picture showed a foetus in its amniotic sac, with its umbilical cord winding off to the placenta.
The unborn child, floating in a seemingly cosmic backdrop, appears vulnerable yet serene. Its eyes are closed and its tiny, perfectly formed fists are clutched to its chest.
Capturing that most universal of subjects, our own creation, Foetus 18 Weeks was one of the 20th century’s great photographs, as emotive as it was technically impressive, even by today’s standards.
And its impact was enormous, growing into something its creator struggled to control, as the image was hijacked by the fledgling anti-abortion movement.
Foetus 18 Weeks was taken by Lennart Nilsson, part of an astonishing series of prenatal pictures by this visionary Swedish photojournalist. His groundbreaking pictures have now reached a whole new generation, having just been shown at the Paris Photo art fair, the first time they have ever been exhibited outside Sweden.
Not long ago, a precious packet of blood traveled more than 7,000 miles by special courier, from America to Australia, to save the life of a newborn. Months before the delivery date, a routine checkup of the mom-to-be had revealed that the fetus suffered from hemolytic disease.
Doctors knew that the baby would need a blood transfusion immediately after delivery. The problem was, the baby’s blood type was so rare that there wasn’t a single compatible donor in all of Australia.
A request for compatible blood was sent first to England, where a global database search identified a potential donor in the United States.
From there, the request was forwarded to the American Rare Donor Program, directed by Sandra Nance. The ARDP had compatible frozen blood on hand, but Nance knew that a frozen bag might rupture in transit.
So her organization reached out to the compatible donor, collected half a liter of fresh blood, and shipped it across the Pacific. When the mother came in to give birth, the blood was waiting. “It was just magic,” Nance says.
You’re probably aware of eight basic blood types: A, AB, B and O, each of which can be “positive” or “negative.” They’re the most important, because a patient who receives ABO +/– incompatible blood very often experiences a dangerous immune reaction.
For the sake of simplicity, these are the types that organizations like the Red Cross usually talk about. But this system turns out to be a big oversimplification.
Each of these eight types of blood can be subdivided into many distinct varieties. There are millions in all, each classified according to the little markers called antigens that coat the surface of red blood cells.
AB blood contains A and B antigens, while O blood doesn’t contain either; “positive” blood contains the Rhesus D antigen, while “negative” blood lacks it. Patients shouldn’t receive antigens that their own blood lacks—otherwise their immune system may recognize the blood as foreign and develop antibodies to attack it.
That’s why medical professionals pay attention to blood types in the first place, and why compatible blood was so important for the baby in Australia. There are in fact hundreds of antigens that fall into 33 recognized antigen systems, many of which can cause dangerous reactions during transfusion.
One person’s blood can contain a long list of antigens, which means that a fully specified blood type has to be written out antigen by antigen—for example, O, r”r”, K:–1, Jk(b-).
Try fitting that into that little space on your Red Cross card.