Larrey, Dominique-Jean

Dominique-Jean Larrey (1766-1842) was instrumental in improving conditions for wounded soldiers during wartime. He perfected better amputation techniques and invented the ambulance as a way to reduce casualties by swiftly removing wounded men from the battlefield.

Larrey was born in France. After learning the medical practices of the time, he went to work for Napoléon Bonaparte (French emperor from 1804-1814) during the emperor's various campaigns from 1792 through 1814. It was during these campaigns that Larrey developed numerous improvements in the handling of wounded soldiers.

Larrey set up the first field hospitals by placing medical tents close to battle instead of miles away in centralized areas. In 1792 he started a horse-drawn carriage ambulance service to and from fighting areas. By 1794 Larrey had added stretchers to his ambulance design. In the Egyptian campaign of 1799, he used camels to power his ambulances.

With fellow surgeon Pierre Percy (1754-1825), Larrey formed a unit of "ambulance soldiers," including stretcher-bearers and trained doctors. Larrey's ambulances and medical units both impressed Napoleon's troops and boosted their morale.

In addition to creating the ambulance prototype, or model, Larrey became an expert in field amputations, at one point performing 200 amputations in 24 hours. As he worked with the open wounds of battle, Larrey also discovered that a wound would heal better, with less chance of infection, if it were cleaned and allowed to remain open for several days before being sutured (stitched up).

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