A brief history of Polish ophthalmology

The 19th century was very important for the development of modern ophthalmology. In this article, Andrzej Grzybowski, MD, PhD looks at the role of Polish ophthalmologists in this development.

Andrzej Grzybowski

Posted: Tuesday, February 9, 2021

The 19th century was very important for the development of modern ophthalmology.
Poland was not independent at that time as it was partitioned and occupied by its three neighbours: Russia, Prussia and Austria. The two partitions (1772 and 1793) significantly limited the area of Poland. However it was the Third Partition of 1795, which extinguished an independent Poland.
Medical studies in Poland have a long tradition and date back to the establishment of the Academy of Cracow in 1364. The Jagiellonian University, a continuation of the Academy of Cracow, was the only university that was not closed in Poland in the 19th century. Many foreign researchers studied and worked at this university.
The situation of all the remaining Polish universities was much more complicated. For instance, the Faculty of Medicine of the Vilnius University was shut down many times. Lviv University did not have a medical faculty at that time at all.
In Warsaw, medical studies were initiated in 1809 in the Academy of Medicine. The Academy was closed after the November Uprising in 1831 for 26 years. Next, in 1857 the Academy of Medicine and Surgery was established, yet it was closed four years later, after the January Uprising in 1863. In 1869 the Russians started the Tzar’s Warsaw University. The official language of the university was Russian and its lecturers were Russian. The Tzar’s Warsaw University was composed mainly of Russian teachers of lesser scientific status. Obviously, this extremely difficult situation of higher education in Poland had an enormously negative impact on Polish science. In addition to the fact that the occupying powers made it impossible to study medicine in Poland, Polish ophthalmology centers were only allowed to perform clinical work without research or experimental activities.
In spite of such hard conditions, Polish ophthalmologists still managed to work in the field and carry out some research. Among the most prominent ophthalmologists with most valuable contributions to the field in the 19th century were: Wiktor Szokalski in Warsaw, Ksawery Galezowski in Paris, Michal Borysiekiewicz in Graz and Innsbruck, Bolesław Wicherkiewicz in Poznan and later in Cracow, and Wincenty Fukala in Vienna.
Wiktor Feliks Szokalski (1811–1891)
Wiktor Feliks Szokalski had to emigrate to Germany because of his active contribution to the 1831 October Resurrection. He resumed his medical studies and graduated in Giessen in 1834. He worked for 12 years in France, where he had to retake his final medical exam and where he wrote another doctoral thesis titled ‘On monocular diplopia or double vision in one eye’. He was a pupil of Sichel, edited the journal ‘L’Esculape’ and in 1844 founded the Parisian Society of German Physicians.
He was offered a Professorship of Ophthalmology in Krakow.However, the Austrian authorities refused the approbation. Finally, he came back to Poland in 1853 and settled in Warsaw, where in 1858, became the head of the Prince Lubomirski Ophthalmic Institute, the first eye department in Poland and he became the professor of ophthalmology and otology.
Szokalski published more than 200 articles in German, French, Russian and Polish on various ophthalmic subjects. His main contributions included the first Polish two-volume textbook of ophthalmology (1869) (later translated into Russian) and publications on colour vision physiology and pathology.
Ksawery Gałezowski (1832–1907)
Ksawery Gałezowski presented his doctoral dissertation on ophthalmoscopy in St Petersburg in 1858 and then left for France, where he stayed until the end of his life. From 1859–1864, Gałezowski was an assistant at Desmarre’s eye clinic in Paris. In 1865, he was given the title of doctor of medicine with the dissertation entitled ‘About the pathologic changes of the optic nerve and the cerebral diseases from which they originate’.
In 1867, he founded a private clinic, which became one of the best ophthalmic hospitals in Paris. He also worked in other Parisian hospitals, in collaboration among others with Charcot.
He founded the first French monthly ophthalmic journal ‘Journal d’ophtalmologie’ in 1872, which was continued from 1879 to 1907 as ‘Recueil d’ophtalmologie’. He was the author of hundreds of articles and 12 books, on nearly every aspect of ophthalmology, including his major interests in ophthalmoscopy, retinal chromatoscopy, treatment of glaucoma, cataract and retinal detachment.
He also advocated the use of gelatine discs for the closure of cataract operation wounds. Because of his collaboration with Jean-Martin Charcot at the Salpetriere, he gained a great deal of experience with neurological diseases, and he became the pioneer of the use of ophthalmoscopy in the diagnosis of central nervous system diseases.
Michal Borysiekiewicz (1848- 1899)
Michal Borysiekiewicz a student of Ferdinand Arlt, and Karl Stellwag von Carion in Vienna presented his post-doctoral dissertation in Innsbruck, where in 1887, he was appointed Professor of Ophthalmology. In 1892, he became the head of the Eye Department at the University of Graz.
Bolesław Wicherkiewicz (1847–1915)
Bolesław Wicherkiewicz was trained in ophthalmology in Wroclaw in Foerster’s Ophthalmology Department. He spent two years in the Alexander Pagenstecher’s Ophthalmology Department of Wiesbaden University. He later worked in major European ophthalmology centres with William Bowman and George Crichett’s in London and with Louis de Wecker and Photinos Panas, in Paris. He also worked in Heidelberg, Leipzig and Halle.
He returned to Poznan in 1877 to start his own ophthalmology practice. Between 1877 and 1895, he founded and developed the largest and internationally best-known 19th century ophthalmic hospital in Poland. In 1895, the hospital had a total of 80 beds. In 1899, Wicherkiewicz founded the first Polish ophthalmic journal ‘Postep okulistyczny’.
Vincenz (Wincenty) Fukala (1847-1911)
Vincenz (Wincenty) Fukala graduated in medicine and specialized in ophthalmology in Vienna under Karl Ferdinand von Arlt and is best known for his work in refractive surgery (Fukala operation, 1887), in which he demonstrated the benefit of clear-lens removal in young patients with a high myopia. His other original contributions included surgical methods for treatment of ectropion, surgery to fix ocular prostheses after enucleation, and historical publications on ancient and Arabic ophthalmology.
Tadeusz Krwawicz (1910-1988)
Tadeusz Krwawicz graduated the medical studies and was trained in ophthalmologz in Lviv. After the Second World War, he moved to Lublin, where he became the head of the university department of ophthalmology. Krwawicz’s contribution in the introduction of cryosurgery to cataract treatment is well known. It is worth to underline, however, that cryotherapy found application in other fields of ophthalmology such as the treatment of the corneal inflammation, retinal detachment and glaucoma. Cryotherapy and cryo-retinopexy are effective treatment methods used until today. Krwawicz was also apioneer in keratoplasty (intracorneal lamellar keratoplasty using a lyophylised graft) and some refractive pro-cedures, like stromectomia lamellaris in myopia, a precursor of LASIK, and changing the corneal curvature by allogenic intracorneal implants.
This article was originally published on 16th February 2013 at the 17th ESCRS Winter Meeting on the occasion of the 17th ESCRS Winter Meeting in Warsaw, Poland.

* Dr Grzybowski, Professor of Ophthalmology at University of Warmia and Mazury, Olsztyn, Poland and the Head of the Institute for Research in Ophthalmology, Poznan, Poland

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