mozart_picThis is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, considered by many to be the greatest composer in all human history. Please click to play the audio clip in the right-hand column in order to hear one of his favorite compositions. The reason he is here is this: had Mozart lived in Baltimore during modern times, Dr. Nicolaus Closset (his primary care physician) would very likely have referred Mozart to see the neurologists at MedStar Good Samaritan. Read on to see why....

Mozart was born in Salzburg on a freezing cold January 27, 1756, and he suffered a tragic and premature death in Vienna on a foggy December 5, 1791 just short of his 36th birthday. Much myth has developed concerning the circumstances of his death, including a fanciful and unfounded speculation that he was poisoned in a jealous plot by Antonio Salieri, another local composer. This story even became the basis for a Peter Shaffer play, later adapted into a very popular, award-winning motion picture, Amadeus.

While we do not have an accurate medical chart on Mozart's illnesses, the historical record does contain a great deal of evidence to suggest that he suffered from a number of neurological conditions, some of which probably contributed to his untimely demise. These conditions are today being treated quite successfully by the MedStar Good Samaritan neurologists, and that is why we suspect Mozart would have become one of our patients if he had lived in more modern times.

For example, during most of his adult life, Mozart suffered with frequent, violent headaches associated with nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light (so-called photophobia) and to sound (phonophobia). During his final days, in fact, these symptoms reached such a severe point that he demanded the blinds to be pulled over all the windows of his room and that his most beloved pet canary be removed so the daylight and chirping would not bother him. These symptoms are quite characteristic of migraine, a type of headache disorder that is easily treatable today. On another note (pardon the pun!), it is also known that Mozart was a rather impulsive, colorful and moody individual who, despite his sublime musical talents, often displayed uninhibited behaviors and even vulgar speech. Although most musicologists dispute this notion, some writers have nevertheless suggested that Mozart may thus have had a condition known as Tourette syndrome, a type of movement disorder characterized by involuntary motor tics and coprolalia, which is the medical term for compulsive uttering of socially-offensive language.

Mozart's famous and popular Requium Mass, his final major composition (which was actually unfinished at his death), was not at all inspired by "Mr. Death" himself (as inaccurate folklore claims) but rather by Count Walsegg-Stuppach as an anonymous commission delivered to Mozart by one Anton Leitgeb, a local musician. Leitgeb, who visited Mozart between August and December 1791 to deliver partial payments for this commission, related recollections of Mozart's "frequent blackouts" which later led Leitgeb to classify Mozart among the "numerous potentially epileptic geniuses." It is thus reasonable to assume that Mozart did indeed also have a seizure disorder, or epilepsy, another condition successfully managed these days.

Although Mozart developed a terminal febrile illness (called "severe miliary fever" in the official death records at the time), many present-day medical scholars believe that he probably died during an epidemic of rheumatic fever, possibly complicated by kidney failure. Recently, however, a medical expert has proposed a rather convincing new hypothesis that Mozart developed a fatal case of trichinosis, a serious muscle disease acquired by eating incompletely-cooked meat (usually pork) that is infected with a worm-like parasite now called Trichinella spiralis. In any event, Mozart's last days were clearly marked by certain symptoms and signs that would suggest to a modern diagnostician that some rather catastrophic neurological events during those final hours contributed significantly to his premature demise.

About thirty years after Mozart's death, Dr. Guldener von Lobes, Physician-in-Chief at the Vienna General Hospital, reviewed the available medical records and the recollections of Mozart's personal physician at the time and concluded that Mozart must have developed "un deposito alla testa," or "brain deposit" that could have developed into an "impending herniation" (severe swelling) of the brain leading to the terminal event. Indeed, written accounts survive today which report that Mozart, while confined to his death bed, suffered some kind of apoplectic attack with deviation of his eyes and mouth to one side, heralded by a violent "shuddering" of his body and then followed by at least a partial paralysis. These symptoms might well have been triggered by a stroke or hematoma (blood clot in or overlying the brain) that caused yet another seizure and then the paralysis.

This theory becomes even more plausible given Mozart's legendary fondness for excessive alcohol and personal exuberance, both known risk factors for head injury and subsequent cerebral blood clots. In fact, a skull bone, alleged to be Mozart's, was exhumed from his mass grave by one of the two gravediggers who was known to have been involved in Mozart's internment. This artifact survives today in a museum, and a medical examination of the skull reveals evidence for a prior left-sided fracture with signs of healing. Therefore, Mozart could well have developed a subdural or epidural hematoma which provoked the cascade of events leading to his final demise. These conditions are quite treatable these days, and the neurologists MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital are skilled today at diagnosing them. The ironic and sad point is that had Mozart lived now, his life could well have been saved by the neurologists at MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital.

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