Obituary - Professor Juha Hernesniemi

Professor Juha Hernesniemi

18th October 1947 – 25th June 2023

On behalf of all the neurosurgeons, academicians, and members of the World Federation of Neurosurgical Societies (WFNS) family, with deep sadness we announce the demise of Professor Juha Hernesniemi, one of the giants of the history of neurosurgery and the best cerebrovascular surgeon in the modern era following Professor Gazi Yaşargil. Prof. Hernesniemi departed from this world on the 25th of June 2023 at the age of 75 years in Helsinki, Finland.

He was born was born on October 18, 1947, in a small village in Central Ostrobothnia, Finland. The journey to medicine was interesting for young Juha Hernesniemi. In his youth he worked for a while in Germany for a car company and understood that he had good motor skills as well as hardworking mentality. Hernesniemi failed to get into the medical school in Helsinki and was successful to study medicine in Zurich, Switzerland. According to Prof. Hernesniemi: “This was a journey where a small village boy became a world citizen.” Hernesniemi had the opportunity to meet the father of modern microneurosurgery Prof. Gazi Yaşargil in Zurich, whom he lifelong respected as one of his most influential mentors. Observing Prof. Yaşargil to perform complex vascular neurosurgery under operating microscope, young Hernesniemi decided to become a neurosurgeon. Meanwhile, he also worked in an animal laboratory to learn how to use microscope for surgical purposes. Prof. Hernesniemi completed his MD from Zurich in 1973 and later returned back to Helsinki to complete his neurosurgical training. During his residency Prof. Hernesniemi also completed his doctoral thesis and graduated as a neurosurgeon in 1979 from Helsinki. Following this Hernesniemi visited several neurosurgical centers in London, Uppsala, and Zurich. Prof. Hernesniemi always mentioned his fellowship under Prof. Peerless and Prof. Drake in the Department of Clinical Neurological Sciences, London, Canada. During the years 1980 to 1997, Prof. Hernesniemi worked in the neurosurgery department of Kuopio, Finland. In his words, during these years he was able to perform more than 6,000 cases skin to skin just by himself and that had a great impact on his microneurosurgical skills. Later he became the head of the Department of Neurosurgery in Töölö in Helsinki University Hospital in 1997 and retired as a Professor and Chairman at the age of 68 in 2015. During these years, he also went around the world to observe and to teach cerebrovascular surgery. After his retirement in Helsinki, he mainly worked in Peru, Indonesia, China, Nepal, and the United States.

The globally renowned Finnish neurosurgeon and academician performed more than 16,000 brain surgeries during his 50-year career and worked as a mentor and a true teacher for the neurosurgeons around the globe. His contributions to the neurosurgical community are countless and his famous saying “fast, clean and respecting anatomy” is a legend linked to Helsinki, the center elevated to the consideration of neurosurgical “Holy Place” due to Prof. Juha Hernesniemi’s leadership in clinical practice, research, and teaching as Chairman of Neurosurgery in Helsinki. Thousands have visited him, watched his surgeries live, learned what they could, and were grateful. His characteristic style was that of supreme efficiency in tackling the most challenging aneurysms, AVMs, and brain tumors; there never was a wasted move. He was lightning-fast, yet clean and fastidious. He was a man of few words, but each word, like each surgical move, meant something profound. He was of utmost humility and never let his fame get to his head. He was sincere, caring, and loved to teach. He took care of every student, trainee, and fellow with fatherly pride. Prof. Hernesniemi's legacy extends far beyond the operating theater. He was always true to himself, the voice of honesty and truth, a voice that was never afraid to criticize suboptimal treatments by self-congratulating self-promoting individuals in our field. He was a revered teacher, sharing his wealth of knowledge and experience with aspiring neurosurgeons and young trainees around the world. His mentorship and guidance have shaped the careers of numerous medical professionals, ensuring his influence will endure for generations to come.

Outside of his professional achievements, Prof. Hernesniemi was a loving husband, father, and friend. He always emphasized the young neurosurgeons to have a stable family life besides working as much as possible. His kindness, humbleness, and warm-hearted nature endeared him to all who had the privilege of knowing him. He found joy in the simple pleasures of life, cherishing moments spent with friends, traveling, gymnastics and finding solace in nature. Right up until the end of his life, he was actively endorsing the spirit of microneurosurgery by giving lectures and interviews.

Prof. Juha Hernesniemi's sudden departure leaves a profound void in the neurosurgical community and the lives of those who knew him. His passion, brilliance, and unwavering dedication will continue to inspire and guide us as we carry forward the torch he lit.

He is survived by his loving wife, children, grandchildren, trainees, and fellows around the globe who will honour his memory by continuing his legacy of compassion, excellence, and innovation in the field of neurosurgery.

Prof. Hernesniemi's impact on the medical world and the lives he touched will never be forgotten. His profound contributions will continue to shape the future of neurosurgery and serve as a testament to the power of human compassion and determination. May his soul rest in eternal peace.

Here, we again express our deepest sorrow and condolences to the family, friends, colleagues and the patients of Prof. Juha Hernesniemi and would like to mention some of his wisdoms for the new generation of neurosurgery:

 

“Complications are not fates. They are mainly caused by lack of skills and / or knowledge”

 

“With clean microneurosurgery, you will be fast and efficient. You will enjoy the excellent results and the smile of patients. Do clean and fast surgery. Follow up your patients.”

 

“Treat the lesions and only the lesions. Learn anatomy X number of hours.”

 

“Neurosurgery is a teamwork and learn from everyone. Travel and gain experiences from the best people. Train hard and analyze your experiences. Accept your failures and learn from them. Publish your work.”

 

“Do NOT get seduced by money. Take neurosurgery as your passion, work hard and dedicate your life for the patients”.

 

Dr. Iftakher Hossain, MD, PhD

 

 

 

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