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Dr. Luciano Neri





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Dr. Luciano Neri: "Challenge doesn't scare me, I can't resist it."
By Laura D’Amelio
Dr. Luciano Neri, an accomplished doctor, claims his age has taken the best of his memory. But with all that has happened in his life it is easy to understand the difficulty in remembering a few dates in his career. Speaking four languages, recipient of numerous honours, researcher, professor, doctor, father, avid traveller… there are many dates to remember.

However, Dr. Neri recalls easily the challenges he has faced and the achievements he has accomplished.

“My greatest achievement is a good medical career,” says Dr. Neri. "It has really been a long and cultivated one."

Born in 1923 in Florence, Neri followed his middle-class roots and was schooled appropriately, choosing to study French in his younger grades and medicine in university. He graduated in 1947 from the University of Florence with a doctorate in Medicine and Surgery.  
Dr. Neri and his wife Yolanda admire the honours bestowed upon him by the Vatican.

Dr. Neri married his wife Yolanda in 1948 and found that the political atmosphere in Italy was unsettling.

“The King had abdicated,” Dr. Neri explains, “and there was the threat of communism.”

Though he had never been involved in politics, Dr. Neri wanted to be somewhere with less turmoil. He learned through his wife’s brother and mother in Venezuela that there was a need for doctors in this South American country. In 1948, the couple left for Venezuela where Dr. Neri took up a post as a rural physician.

“Conditions were primitive. The clinics were new but water was brought in buckets on the shoulders of donkeys,” he recalls.

In Venezuela, Dr. Neri celebrated the birth of his son John in 1949 and daughter Patricia in 1951. In order to make ends meet for his growing family, Neri briefly switched careers to work for an American drilling company. The job separated him from his family , but it also gave him a chance to learn English from his co-workers.

“The workers were Venezuelan and the technicians were American, but there was one Canadian,” Dr. Neri recounts. “He suggested that Canada was in need of doctors and there could be a good life there.”

The idea settled itself quickly in Dr. Neri’s mind. In 1952, Dr. Neri moved his young family to Canada, stopping off in New York, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa before deciding to settle in the latter. Disliking large cities and seeing job opportunities in Canada’s capital city, the family found Ottawa to be a perfect place for a home.

Moving to different countries and challenging his medical knowledge and ability to adapt did not seem to hinder the young doctor.

“Challenge doesn’t scare me. I’m a sucker for it. I can’t resist it,” says Dr. Neri upon reflection and he smiles at the thought.

In this new city he immediately began as an intern at the Civic Hospital where he did everything from surgery to diagnosis.

“When I came to Ottawa, Carling was a little road with no paving. To get to the hospital it would take half an hour or 40 minutes,” Dr. Neri recalls.

His second year in Canada saw Neri take up residence at then Grace Hospital and become recognized by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. From there, Dr. Neri opened a private practice that he worked at full-time until 1965. In Ottawa, Dr. Neri found an Italian community that was large, active and tight-knit. He remembers that Grace Hospital was only female and almost exclusively a maternity hospital. With the young Italian-Canadian community there were many deliveries to keep him busy.

“One of my hardest challenges was when I decided to leave my practice because I was taking a completely different course," says Neri "As a practitioner I was doing well but I was very busy. I rarely saw my children. They were calling me ‘the stranger.’”

Dr. Neri (centre) and co-workers from the government and University of Ottawa celebrate his many awards.

Finding the practice hectic, Dr. Neri joined the University of Ottawa in 1965 as a lecturer in community medicine. He quickly worked through the ranks of assistant and associate professor but realized that to reach his goal of becoming a full-fledged professor he needed to gain a Masters of Science.

“I told them [University of Ottawa] that you have to promise me that if the first year was satisfactory for you and me you’ll send me to Toronto to get a degree,” he says. In 1970, he was granted his degree by the University of Toronto.

During his time at the university he enjoyed researching and writing articles the most. Dr. Neri’s research focused mainly on the relationship between disease and the environment. This lead him to research lead mines in British Columbia and nickel mines in Ontario and the effect on nearby residents. Dr. Neri still speaks passionately about the challenges of finding the reason to patterns of disease and possible solutions.

By 1972, Dr. Neri had his sights set on a new goal.

“I wanted a change and wanted to get some more experience,” says Dr. Neri about his next job placement. Dr. Neri became Chief of Non-Communicable Diseases in the Bureau of Epidemiology for Health and Welfare Canada. While he enjoyed his time there, Dr. Neri wanted to get back into teaching, which he continued to do until 1996.

During his many years teaching, many grants and honours were bestowed upon him from academic, political and religious groups, including the Italian President and Archdiocese of Ottawa.

In 1984, a year of sabbatical gave Dr. Neri the time to earn a diploma in clinical neuro-psychology from Montpellier University. It also gave him a chance to brush up on his French, which he first learned as a child in Italy.

In 1986, Dr. Neri was elected a member of the New York Academy of Sciences without even applying. He had gained recognition from his many research publications. Before retiring in 1997, Dr. Neri worked for the physical medicine and rehabilitation group looking after patients at the Royal Ottawa Hospital and later St. Vincent’s.

Of all the diplomas, degrees and honours Dr. Neri has earned and been granted, his proudest moment came after retirement. In 1999, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario granted him the distinction of Emeritus Status for his “exemplary career spanning more than 25 years.”

Over the past years Dr. Neri has travelled to many places to study or simply for a vacation. Singapore, Australia, France, Belgium, England, Holland all top his list of visited places and he has visited Italy quite frequently as well. A favourite vacation spot for Dr. Neri and his wife is Southern Spain.

Now, enjoying a quiet life in Ottawa, Dr. Neri looks back at all he has accomplished and finds it hard to pick out a period in his life that was the most challenging or a favourite.

“I don’t regret anything in my career, even Venezuela, it did a lot of good,” says Dr. Neri. “When I was in practice I enjoyed it. I was liked by my patients and that was the real reward.”

This article was originally published in the August 2001 issue of Il Postino.
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