November 21 marks the 227th birthday of Beaumont's namesake, Dr. William Beaumont. His story as a pioneering researcher in gastroenterology is one of the most fascinating in the field of medicine.
Born in 1785, Beaumont lived in Connecticut and New York the early part of his life. After deciding to become a physician, he began his studies under Dr. Benjamin Moore. It was common in the early 1800s for an aspiring doctor to pay for a two-year apprenticeship with a practicing physician. He received his license to practice "physics and surgery" in 1812.
He then enlisted in the army as a surgeon during the War of 1812. At the end of the war, he moved to New York and set up a private practice.
But in 1819, he re-entered the army as a post surgeon and was stationed on Mackinac Island. There he treated voyageur Alexis St. Martin for a gunshot wound to the abdomen. The wound was so severe that part of his stomach was punctured. The wound eventually healed, but never closed completely. The stomach fused to the skin, which left a hole the size of a nickel from the outside directly into Martin's stomach.
Since Alexis could no longer work as a voyageur, Dr. Beaumont hired him as a handyman and eventually began the experiments that made him famous. Dr. Beaumont would tie various pieces of food with silk string and dangle it through the unhealed wound into Alexis' stomach. At varying times, Dr. Beaumont would pull the string and remove the food, observing how the stomach and acids digested food. He became the first person to observe digestion as it occurs.
He continued his experiments with Alexis off and on for several years. Eventually, Alexis moved home to Canada with his wife and 17 children. He died in 1880.
Dr. Beaumont continued as an army surgeon in Wisconsin and finally St. Louis, Mo. He had a very successful private practice for many years, until 1853 when he slipped on an icy step while leaving a patient's home. The fall gave him a severe head injury, which led to pneumonia and his death a month later.
By 1950, Dr. Beaumont had achieved international recognition. Physicians around the world built upon his experiments and added to the body of knowledge regarding the function of the digestive tract.
When a group of citizens formed the Southern Oakland County Hospital Committee (later called the South Oakland Hospital Authority) to create a new community hospital they planned to call it Oakland Hospital. During construction, mail and a load of bricks was mistakenly delivered to another hospital with a similar name. A committee was formed to suggest a new name for the hospital. Dr. Frederick Coller, chief of surgery at the University of Michigan and a medical historian, suggested naming the hospital after Dr. William Beaumont. The new name was adopted on April 27, 1954 allowing the legacy of Dr. William Beaumont to live on.