News | Structural Heart | January 20, 2016

Antarctic Explorer Shackleton Posthumously Diagnosed with ‘Hole in the Heart’

Inquiry on the 100th anniversary of the Endurance expedition reveals atrial septal defect

Ernest Shackleton, hole in the heart, Endurance 100th anniversary, Ian Calder

January 20, 2016 — On the 100th anniversary of the Endurance expedition to Antarctica led by Sir Ernest Shackleton, doctors writing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine believe the explorer may have had the congenital defect commonly known as a 'hole in the heart'. Shackleton was capable of severe exertion and made the first crossing of the mountains and glaciers of South Georgia without any health problems. During other expeditions, however, he alarmed his companions with repeated attacks of breathlessness and weakness.

Historians have pondered the cause of Shackleton's physical breakdowns. Inspired by his own experience of crossing South Georgia in a party led by mountaineer Stephen Venables, retired anaesthetist Ian Calder, M.D., with consultant cardiologist Jan Till, M.D., made use of material held in the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge to diagnose an atrial septal defect (hole in the heart).

"The evidence rests in diary entries made by Dr. Eric Marshall, the medical officer of Shackleton's second expedition to the Antarctic in 1907-9," said Calder. "The detection and treatment of an atrial septal defect is now reasonably straightforward, but was not available to Shackleton."

The authors believe that Shackleton knew he had something wrong with his heart because he avoided being examined by doctors who might have tried to prevent him going to Antarctica.

Calder commented, "Some may feel that Sir Ernest was irresponsible in undertaking the leadership of Antarctic expeditions if he suspected a problem, but to paraphrase Dr. Johnson, there is seldom a shortage of prudent people, whilst the great things are done by those who are prepared to take a risk."

Shackleton died of a heart attack in 1922, a few hours after arriving in South Georgia at the beginning of his fourth expedition. He was 47 years of age.

For more information: www.sagepublications.com

Related Content

High Blood Pressure, Cholesterol in Young Adults Associated With Later Heart Disease
News | Congenital Heart | July 16, 2019
Elevated blood pressure and cholesterol levels in young adulthood may lead to an increased risk of heart disease later...
Hypertension Found in Children Exposed to Flower Pesticides
News | Congenital Heart | June 03, 2019
Researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine found higher blood pressure and pesticide...
Edwards Recalls Miller and Fogarty Balloon Dilation Atrioseptostomy Catheters
News | Congenital Heart | April 29, 2019
Edwards Lifesciences is recalling the Miller Balloon Atrioseptostomy Catheter and Fogarty Dilation Atrioseptostomy...
New Pediatric Blood Pressure Guidelines Improve Premature Heart Disease Identification
News | Congenital Heart | April 22, 2019
New guidelines that classified more children as having elevated blood pressure  are better at predicting which kids are...
Better Options Needed for Children at Higher Risk of Premature Heart Disease
News | Congenital Heart | February 28, 2019
Obesity and severe obesity in childhood and adolescence have been added to the list of conditions that put children and...
Climate Change May Increase Congenital Heart Defects
News | Congenital Heart | January 30, 2019
Rising temperatures stemming from global climate change may increase the number of infants born with congenital heart...
Videos | Congenital Heart | November 01, 2018
Example of GE Healthcare’s FetalHQ software for the ultrasound imaging of fetal hearts.
Cardiac Ultrasound Software Streamlines Fetal Heart Exams
Feature | Congenital Heart | October 30, 2018
A new tool called fetalHQ on GE Healthcare’s Voluson ultrasound systems is the first tool to simultaneously examine the...
St. Louis Children's and Washington University Heart Center Perform Rare Infant Heart-Lung Transplant

Image courtesy of St. Louis Children's and Washington University Heart Center

News | Congenital Heart | September 25, 2018
Five-month-old Jack Palmer is home with his family in Kansas City after undergoing an extremely rare heart-lung...
New Research Explores Role of Gene Mutation in Congenital Heart Defects
News | Congenital Heart | June 18, 2018
June 18, 2018 — Heart defects are the most common type of birth defect, and can be caused by mutations in the gene CH
Overlay Init