15 remarkable drinks-related discoveries

Scientists discover cause of death after studying Frédéric Chopin’s Cognac-pickled heart

Also in 2017, scientists made use of the preserving powers of alcohol, determining the cause of death of celebrated composer Frédéric Chopin after being granted rare access to his heart that has been preserved in a jar of Cognac.

Chopin, who died at the age of 39, was a prolific, 19th century Polish composer who primarily wrote works for the piano. When he passed away in October 1849, it was thought he had died from tuberculosis.

The composer requested that his body should be cut open after his death and his heart taken out and transported from Paris back to his native Poland.

An autopsy was duly carried out and his body was buried in Paris in the Père Lachaise cemetery, also home to the graves of artist Eugène Delacroix, singer Édith Piaf, playwright and actor Molière and novelist Marcel Proust.

It is thought his eldest sister, Ludwika Jędrzejewicz, complied with his wishes, smuggling his heart out of the country in a jar filled with what appears to be Cognac, and interring it in a church pillar in Warsaw.

During the Warsaw uprising in 1944, his heart was removed by the Nazis and given to the S.S. officer Heinz Reinefarth. It was subsequently returned to the Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw in 1945, where it remained until it was secretly exhumed in 2014. Photos were then taken of the heart.

In a study published in the American Journal of Medicine, scientists discovered Chopin’s cause of death after examining photos of his heart.

They observed that the heart was “massively enlarged and floppy” and coated with white fibrous materials giving it a “frosted appearance” with small lesions across its surface. This led the team to conclude that the revered composer died of pericarditis, an inflammation of tissue around the heart, which was likely caused by his pre-existing tuberculosis.

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