Through war and pandemics, Hungary's oldest GP still finds joy in healing at 97

Krisztina Than and Krisztina Fenyo
·2-min read

By Krisztina Than and Krisztina Fenyo

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary's oldest general practitioner at the age of 97 receives patients every day and administers COVID-19 vaccines with an unwavering devotion to his profession.

Istvan Kormendi says he was inspired from his early childhood by the example of his father, who was also a GP. He still lives in the high-ceilinged old apartment on the Buda side of the Danube river where his family moved when he was just 6.

"The whole milieu destined me for this... and when it became obvious that I wanted to be a doctor, my father introduced me to the profession," he told Reuters, sitting behind an antique desk that his father bought in 1920.

For Kormendi, who had his own COVID-19 vaccine shot in January, the coronavirus pandemic is just the latest in a series of upheavals and challenges that have marked his long life.

Coming from a Jewish family, he risked his life attending lectures illegally because in 1941 under Hungary's anti-Semitic legislation he was not allowed to go to medical school.

Kormendi escaped the Holocaust but had to do forced labour. To survive that, he took along some canned food and two of his favourite textbooks on pharmacology and internal medicine. He was only admitted to medical school in 1945, after the end of World War Two.

'GREAT BLESSING'

His diploma is now over 70 years old but he keeps learning and applying new treatments every day, and uses the latest computer technology to book patients' data, which is a daunting task along with all the vaccinations he has to do.

Kormendi describes the COVID-19 vaccines a "great blessing" just as a third wave of the pandemic sweeps Hungary and much of the rest of Europe.

"I have had plenty of stress in my life and despite that, the constant mental readiness and work has kept me in this condition, just like sportsmen are kept fit by training," he said.

Kormendi says the secret to longevity is in his genes, but he also stays fit by walking.

"I tell myself, let's go uphill, first slowly and then I gain momentum ... Those who sit idle quickly lose strength, both physically and mentally."

His wife, the love of his life, died recently. His daughter, also a doctor, lives in Vienna, and he misses the grandchildren, and his one great-grandchild, who lives in Copenhagen. He has not seen them since last year because of the pandemic.

Kormendi has around 300 patients, and wants to keep going as long as he can remember the names of new drugs and resolve computer problems.

"If I had to say how I want to finish, well, I would say if I live to be 100 years old then, after a day of work, feeling a pleasant tiredness, I would go to sleep and ...not wake up any more."

(Writing by Krisztina Than; Editing by Gareth Jones)