The Corridors of The Heart

Life Magazine January 19, 1968

“Lennart Nilsson, whose extraordinary pictures of the vascular corridors of the heart appear on pages 22-31, is a photographer who specializes in revealing the hidden wonders of existence. The Drama of Life Before Birth (LIFE, April 30, 1965) and Nature’s Amazing Lenses (LIFE, Dec. 23, 1966) were essays in which Nilsson broke important barriers to our understanding of natural events, and in his current story he greatly illuminates our knowledge of the heart and its vital functions. Staff Writer Loudon Wainwright has recently observed Nilsson at work, and this is his report:

‘To spend a couple of days with Lennart Nilsson in Stockholm is to enter a world that is fantastic and even frightening. Sweden’s doctors have tremendous respect for Nilsson and his pioneering medical photography and he is provided working quarters and virtual staff status in various clinics and hospitals. In one such place, packed with his microscopes and cameras, he opened a bottle of fresh semen he had just picked up from a fertility clinic next door and we watched the long-tailed sperm cells dart across the brightly lighted slide. Then Nilsson plucked a tiny specimen from another bottle and soon we were looking at what could have been an early-morning view of a meadow coated with frost. It was a section of human beard, and looking closely one could see along the top of the weird meadow the angle that the razor had taken on this man’s last shave.

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Since much of Nilsson’s work must be done on specimens taken from cadavers, he maintains a workroom adjoining the autopsy section of one of Stockholm’s big hospitals. Here is a place of very bad views and it is a real measure of Nilsson’s devotion that he can bear this overexposure to death.

When I was at this hospital with Nilsson, the doctors first would not allow us in the autopsy rooms because they had discovered virulent tuberculosis in one of the cadavers. When this body was removed – and after I had become convinced that Lennart, along with the pathologists, must be in repeated jeopardy from such unseen dangers – we changed into surgical gowns and plastic slippers and went into Nilsson’s office. He was given sections of aorta from two patients. One of these, three of four inches long, was from an old man and was so clogged with atherosclerotic deposits that it was almost impossible to cut with scissors. The other, from a young woman, was placed in position for the magnifying lens of the camera. Through the finder, the scene was a cave-scape and one could travel along its red and shadowed passage simply by moving the scope deeper into the blood vessel. It was both odd and moving to journey so inside a human body, and while we were doing it three of the pathologist came in and demanded a look. Veterans who daily studied the anatomy of life and death, they took turns, and as each man rose from the scope and turned back to the rest of us, his face bore the excitement of discovery.’”

(George P. Hunt, Managing Editor)

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Look inside Life Magazine January 19, 1968