Crohn's Disease has Polish origins

I was having breakfast with a new friend this morning; her son suffers from Crohn’s disease. Then as a surprise, she said ‘Did you know it was first discovered by a Polish surgeon?’  

Well, no of course I didn’t. First, I don’t have close familiarity or experience with Crohn’s disease (thank goodness.) Secondly, Crohn doesn’t sound Polish, so I was intrigued.  

Dr. Crohn was American. However the name Antoni Leśniowski is definitely Polish. Turns out in 1904, he first described the chronic intestinal inflammation, that later became known as Crohn’s Disease. He published several scientific papers on the condition, and also presented them at a meeting of the Warsaw Medical Society between 1903 and 1905. In 1932 American gastroenterologist Burrill Bernard Crohn, together with two other doctors, published a landmark scientific paper that took the description further and also defined it as an auto-immune disorder. Dr. Crohn graduated from medical school in 1907. 

In Poland, the disease is referred to as Leśniowski-Crohn’s disease. I do ponder if Dr. Leśniowski’s writings were ever translated to English or known outside of Poland.

Note –  I’ve heard from a few readers they are less interested in Polish history than in Henry’s story. Henry’s life IS the story and core of this blog. However, similar to what I mentioned in the post ‘Poles and Jamestown’, what may not be politically correct to say, but is the truth, is that in grade school I grew up hearing my friends tell Polak jokes. I didn’t know what a Polak was – or equate it with Poland; it was just a reference to a stupid person, along with other ethnic groups. I’m also acquainted with someone else my age who was crowned Miss Polish-American in Phoenix. She said she got a lot of teasing in high school for that. Is it any wonder so many immigrants took Americanized names when they came here? 

Fortunately I haven’t heard those jokes in 30 years, and my kids never told any. The impact of course is that in previous years, outside of Polish communities, many Poles were not respected as smart, especially as new immigrants. Henry always said ‘Americans don’t respect Poland very much. But we have always liked Americans.’  

Henry was always proud to be Polish, and he knew the contributions Poles have made, but let’s face it. Few famous Poles are part of the history we grow up with in this country. I can name one – I learned in high school chemistry about Marie Curie who discovered and named the elements polonium and radium. Henry also became especially proud of his US citizenship attained in the 1960’s. No one he met in this country was ever interested in hearing about Poland. He didn’t care – he’d survived much worse and knew words were only words. He just always looked to tomorrow. 

Sources:;; Wikipedia

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Tags: Polish History