Initially, German surgeon Max Wilms, born in Hünshoven, Germany, studied law as did his father and his oldest brother. After only one semester, however, he decided to switch to medicine. This fateful choice led him to discoveries to which he dedicated the rest of his years.
At the start of his medical career, Wilms examined children’s kidney tumors, added seven cases to a thorough review of the literature, and produced what was the definitive work on the subject in 1899. Throughout his life he studied ulcers, burns, tuberculosis, and the uses of radiation, and co-edited a book on surgery. He may be best remembered for his thorough work with childhood cancer.
Max Wilms would probably be surprised to learn that his name is now linked with this childhood disease. But Dr. Wilms would be even more surprised and delighted, no doubt to learn how many children can now be cured of Wilms tumor.
In light of recent events it is important to note that Dr. Wilms died saving the life of an enemy prisoner of war. In May 1918, during World War I, Wilms died of diphtheria. He was infected by one of his patients, a French officer, on whom he had operated. This utterly dedicated physician never lived to know that his last patient would fully recover.