Hard to diagnose, with an unknown cause, Kawasaki disease has been puzzling doctors for 150 years. Jeremy Hsu explores what we know, and still don’t know, about this troubling childhood heart condition.
A child’s death from scarlet fever wouldn’t have raised any eyebrows during the devastating epidemics that swept Europe and North America in the 1800s. But Samuel Gee, a highly regarded physician in England, found something very strange while cutting open the corpse of a seven-year-old boy in London in 1870. Gee’s autopsy findings, preserved in a single paragraph written in 1871, recorded signs of damage called aneurysms in the coronary arteries running across the surface of the boy’s heart. In the affected regions, the main blood vessels that supply blood to the heart had expanded like modelling balloons because of weakened vessel walls.
Gee described the case as follows:
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“The peculiarity of the following case lies in the age of the patient.