Monday, 11 June 2012


On his birthday

András Pető was born in Szombathely on 11 September 1893. He died in Budapest on 11 September 1967. Ilona Székely has described how he died –
He had a worn, grey coat on the last day when we took him to the Institute: he was already past recovery then, but he wanted to go to the Institute. I went to his flat to give a report and then he said:
'Ring the garage caretaker to send me a car.'
The garage caretaker probably dropped the receiver in amazement: 'Comrade Pető is going out?'
Yes,' I said, 'he is going to the Institute.'
When we got in Pető's lips were already grey. He asked me to ring half the city, everybody who counted in the health authorities... So, when we got to the Institute he summoned together people in high positions. An exchange of views took place between them about how legally to protect those who recovered from their conditions, so that they would be still able to work.
The meeting went on from nine in the morning till the afternoon...
Suddenly Pető' shouted at the receptionist: 'Ildike, Marika!'. The receptionist had to work out from this that he wanted to see us, but he hadn't said so in so many words, just' 'Ildike, Marika!' I had to run to fetch Marika and then we went in. I stopped in the doorway and looked at him: he looked very unwell.
'Well, I have sorted that out' he said. Do not forget this. Mr Pesta [László Pesta, a high official in the Parliament] is going to intercede. He is an honest man, but he may not be able to keep his promise.'
Everything and everybody had to be checked, even himself, so that nothing would be left forgotten. He had reason to check everything but he was even stricter on himself. There were still two glassed of coffee on the tray. Pető knew that I adore coffee and he also knew that I smoked. Nobody was allowed to smoke except me. The two of us sat there and drank our coffees.
Suddenly he looked at me, stood up from his chair and came over to me, his skin had a strange colour and he said:
'Oh Ili, I'm going to die.'
He sank into the armchair, falling forward. I put his medicine under his tongue but in vain. It was too late.
Death and birthdays

This coincidence of dates of birth and of death may catch attention but according to a just-published study of population statistics this is not in fact statistically all that unusual, especially among older men. By implication one may also suspect that a history of heart problems may add to the risk.
From a study of more than two million people, researchers say the ‘birthday blues’ bring a rise in deaths from heart attacks, strokes, falls, suicides and even cancer. On average, people over the age of 60 were 14 per cent more likely to die on their birthdays. The findings – from a study over a 40-year period in Switzerland – back up the idea that ‘birthday stress’ has a major effect on our lifespan. Most of the rise was accounted for by heart attacks, which rose 18.6 per cent on birthdays and were significantly higher for men and women...
Dr Vladeta Ajdacic-Gross, a senior researcher in psychiatry at the University of Zurich, said: ‘Birthdays end lethally more frequently than might be expected.’ He added that elderly people may feel particularly exposed to stress on birthdays. The risk of birthday death rose as people got older. This is backed up by other data on hospital admission taken in Canada showing that strokes were more likely to occur on birthdays than other days, especially among patients with a history of high blood pressure...
It was previously thought that people would be more likely to die in the days after their birthday as the thought of reaching the milestone would help them cling on for longer. But the researchers said this theory was disproved by their findings, and they support the ‘anniversary reaction’ theory – also known as the birthday blues...

William Shakespeare is reported to have died on his 52nd birthday in 1616, of unknown causes
This newspaper report includes more fascinating information. Extracted above are data offering specific perspective on the death of Andras Peto.

The actual study, by sociologist Vladeta Ajdacic-Gross and colleagues of the Institute of Prevention in Zurich, is published in this month's issue of the journal Annals of Epidemiology.


– (2012) Birthdays are deadly. Why over-60s are 14% more likely to die on that day, Daily Mail, 10 June

Ajdacic-Gross, V. (2012) Death has a preference for birthdays – an analysis of death time series, Annals of Epidemiology, vol. 22, no 7

Székely, I. (1999) Interview, in Forrai, J. (ed.) (1999) Memoirs of the beginnings of conductive pedagogy and András Pető, Budapest, Új Aranjhid, and Birmingham, Foundation for Conductive Education, pp. 93-96