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Antarctica's Famous Explorer, Shackleton, May Have Had A Hole In His Heart

Update Date: Jan 19, 2016 12:13 PM EST

It is the 100th anniversary of the Endurance expedition to Antarctica, led by Sir Ernest Shackleton. It is only now that researchers suspect what was wrong with him. The world-renowned Antarctic explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton, suffered physical breakdowns and sudden breathlessness and weakness. Researchers seem to have a clue as to why---he may have had a hole in his heart, leading to a congenital defect.

"The evidence rests in diary entries made by Eric Marshall, the medical officer of Shackleton's second expedition to the Antarctic in 1907-9," said Ian Calder, one of the researchers, in a news release. "The detection and treatment of an atrial septal defect is now reasonably straightforward, but was not available to Shackleton."

Strangely, Shackleton seemed to have an inkling of his condition, and he actually avoided getting examined or diagnosed by doctors, who may have tried to stop him from leaving for Antarctica. Researchers also used material that had been held in the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge in order to detect and diagnose an "atrial septal defect".

"Some may feel that Sir Ernest was irresponsible in undertaking the leadership of Antarctic expeditions if he suspected a problem, but to paraphrase Dr. Johnson, there is seldom a shortage of prudent people, whilst the great things are done by those who are prepared to take a risk," said Calder.

In spite of his heart problems, he fulfilled his dreams and led successful expeditions to the Antarctic.

The study is published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

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