Josep Trueta

Author: Montse Corregidor
Issue: 24 – April 2008

Josep Trueta
Josep Trueta is one of the greatest patriots in the history of Catalonia.

After Antoni Gaudi and Pau Casals he ranks as one of the most popular and humanitarian Catalans; a man who worked to save many human lives.

I have the great privilege of knowing his eldest daughter, Am�lia Trueta, and I have asked her to write a biography of her father for The Hibernian Magazine. She has done so willingly and I sincerely hope you enjoy the read.

�I have been asked to write a short biographical sketch on my father, Josep Trueta, since I am his eldest daughter and therefore the one who remembers him best. He was born in Barcelona on the 27th of October, 1897 the son, grandson and descendant, as far back as the Napoleonic war, of doctors or chemists. However, when it came to the point of deciding upon his career, he was tempted to break the tradition and become a painter. Dissuaded by his father (luckily for the human race), he studied medicine becoming a graduate in 1921. In 1923 he married Am�lia, his life companion with whom he had one son (who died aged 5) and three daughters. In 1929 he was appointed chief surgeon of a large industrial insurance company, where he began experimenting with his biological approach to the treatment of open fractures treatment which was to make him world famous in the Spanish Civil War, the Second World War and is still now the basis for treating these kind of wounds.

When the Civil War ended in 1939, he went into exile, as so many thousands of Catalans and Spaniards, and was invited to London for a short lecture tour – which lasted nearly 30 years. He worked initially as a mere surgeon, then in 1949 became Professor of Orhopaedic Surgery at the University of Oxford. The number of lives and limbs saved by his treatment is immense as it became the norm during and after World War II. During the War, he did research on the kidney, discovering the fact that it has two blood circulations. For this, he was proposed for the Nobel Prize- unfortunately the work, although his name came first, was signed by the five of the team �too many for the Nobel Prize which limits the number to three. When the war ended, with the financial support of his friend Lord Nuffield, he brought research laboratories into the now Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre � the first time such research was introduced into the hospital concerned. He and his team did great work on poliomyelitis, osteoporosis, bone growth, scoliosis, osteoarthritis, etc. and he started working to try to prove his theory on the origin of bone. His fame travelled all over the world � and consequently he was constantly invited to lecture. In 1965, he retired from the Chair at Oxford becoming Emeritus Professor of Oxford University and Emeritus Fellow of Worcester College. This was at a time when Franco was still alive, and, although he was very reluctant to come back to his beloved Catalonia with Franco still in power, he decided to return mainly because he had no means of working if he stayed in Oxford. So he and my mother installed themselves in Barcelona, where he was allowed to see private patients (but not given any opportunity to do research , which was what he desperately wanted). His return was not happy � he was distressed by how he found his country – however he had been able to leave his opera magna published: �The Development and Decay of the Human Frame�. As he states in the preface: �this is not a text book but the fascinating story of the development of the human skeleton…. the structure that allows man to stand erect�and the price he pays for this privilege. �It is quite impossible to even grasp the personality of Josep Trueta without taking into account his intense, deep love of his country, Catalonia. It was the reason for his exile � as he said on a memorable occasion: I left my country because I did not want to see the freedom of my country die � and by this he also meant the Catalan language. His hobby was history � and he even wrote a little book which he called �The Spirit of Catalonia� in an attempt to try to make his English-speaking friends understand why he never liked to be referred to as a Spaniard � why his own language was not Spanish. Since Franco died, the book has been translated into the Catalan language and published in Catalonia � and has had some 20 editions. He is considered very much a Catalan hero � for instance, there is hardly a village, town or city in Catalonia that does not have a street, garden, statue � even a large hospital named after him. Not so in Spain. I am sure he would be the first not to mind this. He was once asked whether he was a separatist – and his answer was �I am not a separatist �I have already separated�.

The Spirit of Catalonia is the first book written in English by a Catalan during the Second World War. The Oxford University published it in 1946. Many people wonder how a surgeon could write this kind of book in the middle of the war. The answer is simple: �The love of his country, Catalonia�. He wanted to explain to the English-speaking people the history of a small country: Catalonia, which was his country and his love of it was a source of motivation for him.
It was difficult to find this book in the original English version but now it can be found on the Internet. The Trueta family published this book in on-line version and friends of mine: Mr. Daniel Carles, Mr. Josep Arnau (two Catalan who are living in Dublin) and also Mr. Marc Font and myself (we are living in Catalonia) helped to collect the excellent English version by Internet for everybody.

This book is now available in the following website address:

This book is a homage to a generation of people defeated militarily but never spiritually.

Finally, in January 1977 he died in Barcelona � 15 months after his beloved wife Am�lia. By then he had accumulated all manner of honours and in his curriculum vitae I have counted 66 distinctions from Universities etc. Some 200 papers and 15 books and monographs have been published worldwide. He had a vast number of pupils from all nationalities, all of whom have spoken with great respect and affection for him. As one of them wrote: �The eventfulness of Josep Trueta�s life was not merely the result of the geographical and historical accidents of his birth. He not only responded to history, he contributed to it.�

Beannacht De ort, go deo!!! (God bless you, forever)


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