Moments in Surgical History |

Lewis Albert Sayre and the Suspension Treatment of Spinal Disease

Ira M. Rutkow, MD, MPH, DrPH
Arch Surg. 2001;136(1):119. doi:10.1001/archsurg.136.1.119.
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THE LAY PUBLIC has long identified a surgeon by his or her "cutting" instruments. To incise with a scalpel, to dissect with a scissor, to sew with a needle, have been regarded as the trademarks of a busy practicing surgeon. Yet, the art and craft of surgery does not always require a knife, scissor, and needle. This was most dramatically demonstrated when Lewis Sayre authored his renowned monograph, Spinal Disease and Spinal Curvature: Their Treatment by Suspension and the Use of the Plaster of Paris Bandage in 1877. This book and its 21 albumen prints (a landmark in American medical photography since it was the first known full-length surgical text to contain actual mounted photographs) shows several patients with Pott disease and spinal curvature being treated with Sayre's tripod suspension derrick.

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There is a subtle degree of eroticism in the way the 20-year-old Jessie Brown is posed prior to her treatment by Sayre using his tripod suspension derrick. Sayre relates that following placement of a plaster of Paris jacket, she had an increase in height of "one inch and one eighth, by accurate measurement" (author's collection).

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