Erik von Willebrand - Who was he?

  • Lindberg O
ISSN: 1351-8216
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Erik Adolf vonWillebrand (W) was born on February 1st, 1870 in Vaasa, Finland as the third child of the district engineer and nobleman Fredrik Magnus von Willebrand and Signe Estlander, a vicar's daughter. Although the family was socially active and class conscious W's upbringing was austere by modern standards. He attended Vaasa Lyceum excelling in chemistry, botany and zoology, ornithology in particular. In the summers, he trekked widely collecting botanical and ornithological specimen and in the winters he toured the frozen Gulf of Bothnia. After gaining his baccalaureate in 1880, W enrolled at the University of Helsinki. Before gaining his license in 1896 he spent the summers 1894 and 1895 on the A land islands as junior Spa physician. There is no indication that he at this time would have encountered the disease he later was to describe.Whad a seat in the chamber of nobility in Finnish Parliament in 1987 and 1904-1906. W was attached to the Deaconess Hospital in Helsinki 1897. His dissertational work on the haematological effects of massive venesection was supervised by professor Ossian Schauman, W's predecessor as chief physician at the Deaconess hospital. From 1899-1906 W was also associated with the department of physiology publishing on hot air therapy and phototherapy. In the summers 1899- 1906,Wwas chief physician at the Heinola Spa. From the Deaconess hospital W published on metabolism and therapies for diabetes, obesity and gout. Parallel with his work at the Deaconess HospitalWwas acting professor of internal medicine in several episodes. He also published a large clinical-statistical study on heart valve conditions based on data from more than 10 000 autopsies performed in Helsinki 1867-1916. In 1919, W applied for tenure but was surpassed by the gastroenterologist Robert Ehrstrom. W returned to haematology after a pause of almost 20 years publishing 3 papers on hematologic topics between 1918 and 1923. On April 29th 1924, a 5-year-old girl with a tendency for profuse mucosal haemorrhage was admitted to W's clinic. The girl was part of a large family in which males as well as females were bleeders. 18 months laterWpublished a paper which included a brief review of haemorrhagic diathesis distinct from 'genuine' haemophilia, the description of a novel haemorrhagic disorder in a pedigree of two interrelated families spanning four generations, 58 individuals and an analysis of the heredity involved, suggesting dominant sex linkage.Wsuggested thrombocyte dysfunction coupled with a defect of the vessel walls. A local school teacher gathered the data for the pedigree whereas, W did not return to the A land islands. To gain further insight in the disorder W established collaboration with Dr. Rudolf Jurgens of the University of Leipzig who had developed a capillary thrombometre and a method for observing thrombocyte aggregation.Wwas a very thorough but modest and soft spoken man who would rather speak of his most recent observations in nature than of other matters. In a 1941 review on hereditary thrombopathies W dubs the disease he described constitutional thrombopathy of the von Willebrand-Jurgens type.W died in September 12th 1949 at the family mansion in Pernaja and was survived by his wife, two daughters and four grandchildren.




Lindberg, O. (2011). Erik von Willebrand - Who was he? Haemophilia, 17(2), 348. Retrieved from

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