Just a few months before his final exams and graduation from Western’s medical school, Vladimir Yakovishin, MD’68, began to have trouble reading. Frightened by this new development and what it might mean to his future career as a doctor, he reached out to his colleagues, teachers and local ophthalmologists for answers to why he was suddenly struggling to see.
After a number of consultations and tests that were unsuccessful in providing an explanation, the then-Dean of Medicine, Dr. Douglas Bocking, arranged for him to meet with a specialist in Baltimore, Maryland. There, he was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease, a form of juvenile macular degeneration, which is a rare disease that leads to blindness.
“It was very frustrating that they didn’t know why it was happening, but if there’s one word I would use to describe Western it would be ‘community’,” he says. “Everyone really emphasized that I was one of them and that I wasn’t on my own. When I went to see the Dean, I was worried about how he would react but he said, ‘We’ll see you through this’, and then gave me a plane ticket and hotel reservation so I could go to Baltimore. It was incredible.”
Following his diagnosis, Dr. Yakovishin completed his internship in both internal medicine and psychiatry and ultimately chose to pursue a career in psychiatry. He returned to Western, entered the postgraduate training program in psychiatry and was able to pass his exams with the help of volunteer readers, tape recorders and his own determination.
Throughout his career and lifetime, he has had the opportunity to provide support to patients, his students, and to others in the community as they faced their own challenges. “Over the years, many people who have been diagnosed with this disease have contacted him for his advice and to talk,” says his wife, Jean.
“Life isn’t always a straight trajectory,” he says. “One thing I’ve learned is that doctors don’t always have all the answers and that’s okay, as long as they’re still trying to help and continue to look for those answers. That is one lesson I’ve passed on to my students.”
Now retired, Dr. Yakovishin says he has more time to reflect on his experiences and his responsibility to help others. “When you go through grief, you want to give back. I’m here to help someone else. If I could do it, maybe they can do it. Everyone has a story but is there anything you can pass on to help them overcome their obstacles?” he says.
His experiences have also motivated him to provide financial support to the next generation of students. “The cost to attend school now is astonishing to me. I graduated with $500 in debt. I worked and I received bursaries and that was enough. How are we going to develop the human potential if people can’t go to school because they can’t afford it?”
To help address that need, he and his wife established a bequest to Western that, when realized, will support the Dr. V.M. Yakovishin Family Bursary in Medicine, awarded to undergraduate medical students who demonstrate financial need, and the Yakovishin Family Fund in Ophthalmology Research, focused on juvenile or early-onset adult eye disease.
“We wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t have what we have now if it wasn’t for Western. How could we not give back?” he says. “How many potential doctors are there who could do amazing things but can’t because they don’t have the finances to attend university? I hope that everyone will consider putting what they can into the pot to help as many students as we can achieve their dreams.”
For more information about establishing a bequest, please contact a member of the Bequest Team or visit extraordinary.westernu.ca/ways-to-give/planned. Jane Edwards (519.661.2111, ext. 88829 or firstname.lastname@example.org) or Mike O’Hagan (519.661.2111, ext. 85585 or email@example.com).
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