TOMAS ROMAY CHACON: A PATRIOT OF SCIENCE AND CULTURE
Tomas Romay Chacon (1764-1849), an energetic man of delicate sensibility, a true catholic and consistent friend, was one of the great Cuban figures of the last part of the VXIII Century and first half of the XIX. He excelled as a medical doctor and hygienist, writer and poet, speaker and historian, as well as a university professor and lover of legal sciences. He participated in the foundation of Papel Periodico de La Habana (Periodical Paper of Havana) and of the Sociedad Economica Amigos del Pais (Friends of the Country Economic Society). He was professor of the Real y Pontificia Universidad de La Habana (Royal and Pontifical University of Havana) where he occupied the Faculty Chair of Philosophy and Medicine. He made contributions to Apiculture and to the beginning of the literary movement of his time. He was the director of the Junta Central de Vacuna (Central Vaccination Board) and was an advocate for free primary instruction. He also linked the study of Natural Sciences with the battle against Scholasticism.
As a politician, he was a man of his time and of his rank, defender of the established system and an admirer of the Spanish Monarchy. On May 20, 1820 he published Purga Urbem, an article in which he proclaimed himself to be an intransigent enemy of revolutionary liberalism and of the independence of the American Colonies, an irrefutable proof that one can move forward in science, culture and nationality, without being a revolutionary. History belongs to all those who contribute to it.
In spite of his exhaustive labor, it was in medicine -the first professional career that was a taught in the colony and which he considered the most beneficial for humanity- where he made his major contributions. It was in this science that he obtained the degree of Professor of Pathology and the degree of Doctor of Medicine after defending his thesis on the Spread of Tuberculosis, in 1792. Two years later, before the Junta Ordinaria de la Sociedad Patriotica de Amigos del Pais (The Ordinary Board of the Patriotic Society of Friends of the Country) -the first scientific meeting of Cuban doctors- he presented a Dissertation concerning the Malignant Fever, commonly known as Vomito Negro (Black Vomit),an epidemic illness in the Eastern Indies, an essay that initiated the medical bibliography in Cuba and for which he was designated Miembro Correspondiente de la Real Academia de Medicina de Madrid (Correspondent Member of the Royal Academy of Medicine of Madrid).
His major contribution was the introduction of the Chicken-Pox Vaccine in Cuba, three years before the discovery of the preventive inoculation against Chicken-Pox was announced by the British Dr. Edward Jenner in 1798. Romay had already published an article concerning this subject. It was after the colonial authorities decided to introduce the inoculation by means of the cow’s virus, that the Cuban scientist went throughout the Island seeking for the cow-pox with no avail. It was accidentally that he learned of the arrival of a family from Puerto Rico with three children who had been recently vaccinated against the Chicken-Pox and who were in active suppuration state. Romay contacted the children’s mother, took the pox from the children and inoculated dozens of persons of all ages, sex and conditions.
It was after the defamatory campaign carried out by the inoculation enemies that he proceeded to vaccinate two of his children and others in the presence of the Real Tribunal de Protomedicato (Board of Royal Physicians) with positive results. From that moment on and during more than thirty years he dedicated himself to the Chicken-Pox vaccination. In February of 1833, at the age of 69, Romay participated in the battle against cholera disease that appeared in Havana, an illness that killed more than 8,000 people in 54 days, his first born daughter among them.
Thanks to the influence he had over his own students that the development of medicine and science took place in Cuba. So was the case of Dr. Jose Esteves and Cantal, who, besides being the best chemist of his time, consolidated a new branch of Therapeutic: Medical Hydrology. Esteves performed an analysis of the waters of San Diego, the most famous of our miner-medicinal fountains for the utilization of its curative properties. It was through Esteves that Botanical, Chemical and Mineralogy were introduced in the Island, a major contribution to the development of the cultural and scientific reformed movement.
Romay stood out in the introduction of scientific methods in the practice of medical teaching. He became the first professor of the Medical Clinic class when it was officially inaugurated in 1834. His thesis consisted in that a Specialty had to be learned by the patients’ bed. He introduced the course of Anatomy using cadavers, and Clinical studies in the Hospital Ward. He took the students to the patients’ wards and also to the morgue for autopsy practices. It was after that moment that the regular and methodical Clinic teaching began in the hospitals.
As a doctor, his job had always a predominant social character. He was Assistant Doctor in the Marine hospitals; Assistant Doctor of the patients’ ward established in the Convento de Belen (Belen Convent); Doctor, since its foundation, of the Real Casa de Beneficiencia (Royal Charity Home); Doctor of the Religiousness of Santo Domingo; Doctor of the school for girls of San Francisco de Sales; Doctor of the Santa Catalina Monastery; Doctor of the Real Colegio Seminario de San Carlos (Royal Seminary College of San Carlos); General Assistant Doctor of the Military Hospital, established outside the city walls, and Chief Doctor of the Military Hospital of San Ambrosio.
Because of his contributions to the study of Yellow Fever, his activities in disease prevention which made him the first great Cuban Hygienist, the introduction of scientific methods in the teaching practice, his battle against scholasticism in education, his influence over students and the introduction of new methods of thinking, he laid the foundation of science principles in Cuba. Tomas Romay, one of the founders of our national culture is a vivid example that the service to the country is not limited to military battles. The country can also be served in any field, independently of political ideas: a lesson for all, especially for those in government.
Translated by David Fernandez