Frédéric Chopin died in France in 1849 at the age of 39 of what his death certificate recorded as "tuberculosis of the lungs and larynx." After his death, friends had the composer's heart removed, submerged in a jar of cognac, and placed in a Warsaw church in his native Poland in accordance with his wishes.
Now Polish scientists want to reopen the jar to see whether Chopin actually died of cystic fibrosis. Michal Witt of Warsaw's International Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology has argued that Chopin had childhood symptoms matching a mild form of the genetic illness, including respiratory infections, weakness, and delayed puberty. As an adult, Chopin was slight of stature, had a hard time climbing stairs, and occasionally had to be carried offstage after concerts. "If it turned out that Chopin had cystic fibrosis, this would be very special news for all those affected with CF," Witt says.
Witt hopes to persuade Polish authorities to open the niche where Chopin's heart is stored by 2010, the 200th anniversary of his birth. "It's a good moment to check, and once we have it in our hands it's a small matter to do a CT [computed tomography] scan and DNA test," says Tadeusz Dobosz, a geneticist at Wroc aw Medical University. Poland's Culture Ministry is considering the request.