The name Dr. Vladimir Hachinski is probably not familiar to most residents of Scugog, but this former Port Perry High School graduate is one of the most important neurologists in the world and has just been elected president of the World Federation of Neurology.
Dr. Hachinski is recognized as a leading authority in the field of dementia and related syndromes such as Alzheimers. In addition he is one of the most widely respected pioneers in the study of stroke.
The Hachinski family fled the turmoil of post war Europe and made their way to Venezuela initially but a military coup in that country began an era of instability, so the Hachinskis looked elsewhere to raise their three children. An uncle, Andre Mostowitsch and his wife Cezelia, had settled in Seagrave. They persuaded the Hachinski family to join them in Canada.
The Hachinskis arrived in Port Perry in the spring of 1959. Immediately upon arrival here they bought a two storey frame house at 100 Perry Street. At the time no one had any idea that this was the historic first Bigelow house, one of the oldest homes in downtown Port Perry.
The Hachinski’s oldest son Vladimir, then age 17, enrolled in Grade 12 at Port Perry High School. While in Venezuela he had learned only a few words of English. The staff of Port Perry High School, under the leadership of principal Grant MacDonald took the young Hachinskis into their educational care and immediately set about helping them to improve their English. In Vladimir’s case, his English teacher, Nora McCully suggested that he read Hamlet while listening to a recording of the play which she had in her possession. “To this day I can still quote from memory almost the entire play,” he smiled.
Ray Litt who was vice principal at PPHS and taught chemistry there remembers Vladimir as a student who spoke little English and spent all his spare moments reading Shakespeare and other classic English literature in order to learn the language.
Dr. Hachinsky with his mother Vera
In September 1959, intent on getting into university, Vladimir enrolled in 13 subjects at the grade thirteen level. By Christmas with his limitations in English, he was failing in all subjects except Chemistry. PPHS principal Mr Macdonald suggested that he drop down to 9 subjects. He did and in June in the Ministry of Education Departmental Examinations he passed all with high marks and had the highest mark in English at Port Perry High School!
He applied to the University of Toronto Medical School and was accepted.
Vladimir has fond recollections of this period; “I remember Sam Griffin who owned Scugog Lumber. He was really kind to me and gave me a job at weekends and summers working at the lumber yard. That enabled me to afford my university fees,” he recalled.
While at the medical school, he attended one of the dances and met a young high school Latin and French teacher who happened to attend the dance. Mary Ann Demianiuk and Vladimir were married in 1967, a year after his graduation from medical school.
Following his graduation in medicine from the University of Toronto, he went on to further training in London England and Copenhagen Denmark.
He is now the Professor of Neurology and distinguished University Professor at the University of Western Ontario in London.
Dr. Hachinski is known worldwide for his work in creating the world’s first stroke unit. He has written 17 books on various aspects of neurology and authored or co-authored hundreds of articles for leading medical journals. In 2008 he received the Order of Canada for his work.
He is presently the editor-in-chief of Stroke Journal the leading journal in its field. He has recently worked with his daughter Larissa in producing a book entitled “Brain Attack!” Vladimir and his wife also have two sons; Vladimir, junior, a telecommunications consultant, and Eric, a concert pianist.
Dr. Hachinski still takes time to frequently visit Port Perry. “I often come back to Port Perry to spend time with my mother,” he says. She still lives in the home which the family bought in 1959.” He continued; “ The town has changed significantly over the past few years. It has become very “boutiquey” if there is such a word. This is not a criticism but an observation. It has evolved quite tastefully,” he adds.
When asked about the importance of neurology today he responded, “It is the study of the brain from the point of view of treatment and prevention,” he says. His most recent studies have proven a clear relation between stroke and Alzheimers. He is presently leading the research into the prevention and delay of strokes.
He commented, “Alzheimers cannot be prevented at present but studies have proved conclusively that strokes, dementia and Alzheimers can be postponed.”
In this regard he stated clearly, “It is becoming increasingly obvious that we have to change our lifestyle here in Canada, and in North America. We live in a time when we don’t exercise as a routine of our daily lives. I don’t mean going to the gym, I mean exercising during our work schedule, walking to and from work and other activities. I applaud the European cities that have developed extensive pedestrian areas for their citizens.”
He continued, “Another serious problem we have in the western world is that we have so much fat content junk food and so much of our every day food has high levels of salt and calories. Unfortunately fast foods are cheap and readily available whereas good foods are more expensive.”
When asked how this can be helped he was clear in his suggestion that “the government should seriously consider taxes on food containing high levels of salt and calories and subsidizing healthy foods such as fruit, cereals and vegetables.”
Studies by Dr. Hachinski and his colleagues have shown that one in three of us is destined to suffer dementia or stroke and this can be significantly reduced by a change in life style.
Dr. Hachinski’s expertise is sought after world-wide. In between his research and studies, he travels extensively to give presentations on the results of his work. He uses these travel experiences as an opportunity to learn about the cities and countries in which he travels and enjoys keeping a photographic record of his visits.
He has also taken time to pursue an enduring love of history by earning an honours degree in history and has written several papers on the history of medicine.
Dr. Hachinski is extremely philosophical about medicine and optimistic about the future. “Medicine is no longer an individual study. With the advent of cell phones and the internet, medicine has become globalized. The sharing of information is instantaneous and therefore speeds up the process of study and research to the betterment of us all.”
On his election to the presidency of the World Federation of Neurology on December 15, 2009, Dr. Hachinski commented; “It is such a great honour to lead the WFN, particularly since I am the first Canadian to be elected to this office.” The WFN represents more than 100 countries around the world. The election took place in Bangkok, Thailand.
Dr. Hachinski’s life story, from humble and difficult beginnings in a new and strange country here in Port Perry, all the way to the leadership of the WFN, is an inspiration to us all.
At the close of our conversation, Dr. Hachinski said, “I am so intensely grateful to the people of Port Perry who welcomed us as newcomers and nurtured us. The townspeople are so supportive.”
By Paul Arculus
Focus on Scugog