One of the greatest names in neuroanatomy and neurosurgery, Lennart Heimer, passed away at his home in Trevilians, VA, on March 12, 2007 - just one day after his 77th birthday. Lennart was a very eminent Swedish-American scientist, scholar and medical educator, who was working since 1972 at the University of Virginia. For long I had stopped getting any Emails from him, which was quite unusual. But I did not think much about it.
On Sunday, February 11, 2007, his son Hakon had sent me the following mail.
Dear Prof. Aggrawal, My father, Lennart Heimer, has had a very bad turn of health. Since late December, he has had two heart attacks, with the one last week being a large one. The worse news is that the back and abdominal pain he began suffering last fall turned out to be a widespread metastacizing cancer. At the moment he is quite weak and we have set up hospice care for him at home. I would like to hope that he might return to work on a limited basis, but given his recent decline, I am doubtful. He has spoken proudly of the reviews of his DVD on your website, and as I have been relaying his email to him, I notice that a recent request for a copy was prompted by your site. Could I trouble you to change the contact information on your webpage? http://www.geradts.com/anil/ij/vol_007_no_001/reviews/sw/sw001.html You can delete all the various contact info and substitute: To Order: please contact Hakon Heimer, firstname.lastname@example.org, with "Lennart Heimer DVD" in subject field. (Ignore Earthlink request to be added to address book.) Congratulations on your clear and useful journal/website. Sincerely, Hakon Heimer -- Hakon Heimer Editor Schizophrenia Research Forum www.schizophreniaforum.org email@example.com
Despite this depressing mail from Hakon, I did not think, I will never get to hear from him again. On May 10, 2007 (Thursday), his son, Hakon, again sent me an Email - this time informing that Lennart had passed away. I was immediately benumbed - and devastated.
I came to know about Lennart, because both of us were very passionate about one thing - the human brain. Often called the most complex lump of matter in the whole universe, the very thought of brain still inflames me with great intellectual passion. I am overzealous about the human brain, its structure, function and every other aspect of it that one may conceive.
My deep passion in brain was aroused in the 90s when I was working in Professor Busuttil's unit at Edinburgh. In January-February 1990, Professor Busuttil advised me to attend a six week course on the anatomy of brain based on practical dissection. The course was taken by Professor Dennis W. Lincoln of Medical Research Council Reproductive Biology Unit. The course was so good and so informative, that from that point on, I developed a life long interest in brain. When I came back to India, it became a hobby with me to dissect the human brain every other day, and in every conceivable way - longitudinal sections, transverse sections, axial sections, obliquely at several different angles, dissection by layers and in several other ways. The supply was no problem, thanks to my work as a professor in the department of forensic medicine. Since then, I have conducted innumerable courses of my own on brain for anatomists, neurologists and neurosurgeons and prepared a number of my own brain movies. Two such movies prepared in conjunction with one of my former students can be found here. These are rather small in size, as they had to be put over the net, but I have scores of big movies in my collection. Dr. P. Sampath Kumar of the Sri RamChandra Institute, Chennai even prepared CDs of my brain dissections, when I demonstrated the brain dissection live at the Third Annual Conference of the Medicolegal Society of TamilNadu, held on 25-26 August, 2006 at Sri RamChandra Medical College and Research Institute, Porur, Chennai.
When I came to know about Lennart's work, the first thing I did was to send him my own CDs of brain dissections. I did not expect a reply from him, but not only did I get a reply from him, he even sent me his own set of brain DVDs (complimentary), which we reviewed in our journal (vol 7, no 1 : January - June 2006). From that point on, we developed a deep passionate relationship, and he continued giving me several good tips about preserving brains and some other finer details about brain dissections.
Born in the town of Östersund in central Sweden on March 11, 1930, Lennart was the son of Gösta Heimer and Rakel (Karlstedt) Heimer. As a young man, he had a passion for sports, excelling at soccer, track and field, and, particularly, alpine skiing. Twice Swedish junior champion in slalom, he placed third in the national championships in his first adult competition and qualified for the Swedish Olympic team.
Upon completing training in medicine at the University of Gothenburg, Dr. Heimer was recruited in 1965 to the Department of Psychology and Brain Science of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He had developed what at the time was the most sensitive silver method to map the pathways of nerve fibers in the brain and soon formulated revolutionary new concepts about the basic organization and connectivity of brain structures that regulate emotions and motivation. Concepts conceived in his laboratory have served for more than 30 years to energize inquiry in the basic and clinical neurosciences in subdisciplines ranging from drug abuse research to neuropsychiatry. Dr. Heimer's early work is widely recognized as providing the conceptual basis for the subsequent elaboration of "segregated, parallel cortico-subcortical reentrant pathways", which are presently utilized as surgical and pharmacotherapeutic targets in the treatment of diverse neurological and neuropsychiatric brain conditions, from Parkinson's disease to drug abuse to obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Dr. Heimer served for many years on the editorial boards of the The Journal of Comparative Neurology and Neuroscience. His series of books on experimental neuroanatomical methods is a standard reference among working neuroscientists. He also harbored an indefatigable commitment to medical education in the neurosciences. Both editions of his textbook for medical students, The Human Brain and Spinal Cord-Functional Neuroanatomy and Dissection Guide, are regarded as among the most lucid available accounts of this difficult subject. His acclaimed series of teaching videotapes and DVDs demonstrating the prosected human brain, which emerged out of now locally legendary sessions with neurology and neurosurgery residents at the University of Virginia, have been acquired by generations of students, neuroscientists and clinicians. He was vigorously pursued throughout his career as a lecturer in university, clinic and workshop settings worldwide. Retiring from the research laboratory several years ago, he continued to teach, write and speak, and, at the time of his death, had a full lecture and workshop schedule planned for the coming year. His students and colleagues will always remember Lennart's kind, gentle and encouraging spirit and, hopefully, also his steadfast conviction that knowledge of the neuroanatomical organization of brain is central to understanding its functions and disorders.
I never met Lennart personally, yet he became a Dronacharya for me. In Indian tradition, the great archer Eklavya learnt the art of archery to the point of perfection by simply keeping an image of Dronacharya - the greatest teacher of archery the world has seen - by his side. I did exactly the same, but I had better equipment at my disposal - the internet! And I had the luxury and comfort of sending him any query, that came to my mind, over email, and he would invariably reply within the next 24 hours - even if he were traveling! It is sad, that now I do not have a Lennart - the quintessential brain expert - by my elbow, who can still guide me and answer my innumerable questions on the dissection of human brain.
The deaths of very few people whom I never met, have saddened me. Isaac Asimov was one. Lennart Heimer is another.
Dr. Heimer is survived by his wife, Hanne-Bjørg Heimer; sons Hakon, Mikael, Gösta, and Knut Lennart Heimer; and four grandchildren; as well as by sisters Gudrun Strandberg and Bodil Karlén of Sweden.
The whole Neuroanatomy and neurosurgery community of the world offers their heartfelt condolences to his wife, children and other members of his family. May his soul rest in peace.
(Inputs from a write up by Lennart's son Hakon Heimer at http://www.sfn.org/index.cfm?pagename=memberObituaries_heimer)
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