Johannes Jonassen Giil

One of the patients at Pleiestiftelsen would prove to be more important to science and other leprosy sufferers than he could ever imagine. Patient no. 755, Johannes Jonassen Giil, had been admitted to the hospital at the age of twelve. The samples in which Gerhard Armauer Hansen observed the leprosy bacterium for the very first time, in the evening of 28 February 1873, came from him.

Johannes Jonassen Giil from Hyllestad was just 12 years old when he was admitted to Pleiestiftelsen Hospital on 27 August 1866. According to his patient record, the disease had started six months previously. Neither his parents, farmer Jonas Hermansen Giil and Severine Johannesdatter, nor anyone else in his family, were said to have been ill.

Little information survives about Johannes Giil and the time he spent at Pleiestiftelsen. Like the other young people who lived there, he was taught at the hospital school, and on 11 December 1870, he was confirmed along with 11 others. He was then 16 years old, and the church register notes ‘Almost very good knowledge of Christianity and diligence’. Johannes Giil died at the age of 20 on 31 January 1874. It was then less than a year since the samples, taken from nodules on his nasal wings, had become the subject of examination and the starting point for a ground-breaking discovery that made Hansen famous and put Norway on the world map.

Sketch, samples from Johannes Giil 1874. Bergen City Archives.
Sketch from a specimen enlarged 300 times, signed Johs. Giil and dated 2 February 74.
Bergen City Archives.

Form from district physician 1866. Regional State Archives of Bergen.
Form from the Hyllestad medical officer showing that Johannes Giil was diagnosed with leprosy in 1866 and moved to Pleiestiftelsen the same year. From the archive of ‘The Chief Medical Officer for Leprosy’.
The Regional State Archives of Bergen.

Form from district physician 1866. Regional State Archives of Bergen.
The medical officer’s overview of people infected with leprosy in Ytre Sunnfjords medical district in 1866. Johannes Giil is listed at the bottom as the only person from Hyllestad that has been infected.
The Regional State Archives of Bergen.

Armauer Hansen’s first description of the leprosy bacillus

‘Plejestiftelsen, n:r 755, Joh:s Giil, enlarged nodules.
Date 28 February 1873. A nodule from each wing of the nose extirpated with scissors and placed in a meticulously cleaned watch glass; incision through the nodules; no ramollissement; scraped the incision surface using the knife’s edge and placed the scrapings onto a slide and, without adding fluid, spread it out by pressing down the coverslip. Almost exclusively round cells, very few with grains of fat, many fine-grained, others containing many rod-shaped bodies, which in part are delimited by parallel lines, and in part are pointed at both ends, and are then almost twice as thick as the others around the middle. Similar bodies are found in a free state where the pressure from the coverslip has led to the formation of small lakes surrounded by compact cells; in these serum lakes, the bodies move in the way bacteria do.’

From the article ‘Bacillus leprae’ which was printed in English, German and Norwegian journals in 1880, where Hansen reproduces some of his notes from his first microscopic examinations of nodules from patients.

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