More than a doctor; Digby mourns Vladimir Lafkovici

Jonathan Riley, Digby Courier jriley@digbycourier.ca
Published on February 22, 2014

Every card of condolence the family of the late Dr. Vladimir Lafkovici has received has said he was a doctor and a friend.

“They all say he was their doctor but he became their friend too,” said Lafkovici’s partner Bette Drish. “He really cared for people.

“He made house calls--we used to take our bulldog puppy for one fellow to play with—he told me, these people need medical care, but they also need someone to stop in and see them.”

Alex Lafkovici said too his father made house calls because he was a friend to his patients.

“He loved his patients and he loved being a doctor,” said Alex. “He cared for his patients so much, not only as a doctor but as a friend—and when your friend needs help, you go and see them.”

Dr. Lafkovici was born in Romania July 4, 1946 and was a successful pediatric doctor and surgeon there before coming to Canada in 1984 with his wife Angela and four-year-old son.

“He wanted to give his family a better life,” said Alex. “He did that for me. He really struggled; he didn’t speak English and he had to write the exams to requalify here in Canada.”

Bruce McLaggan, a podiatrist who worked in the same office building in Digby with Dr. Lafkovici, said Lafkovici often told him stories about the struggles of starting over.

“He didn’t speak one word of English when he came to Canada, “ said McLaggan. “He had to learn a whole new language and he worked as an orderly in Toronto, pushing beds around—he really had to start over at the bottom.”

In 1992 Lafkovici began practicing in Digby, first on the Islands and then in town.

McLaggan said Lafkovici felt at home here because he liked living in a small town where he could get to know everyone.

“I think it was like where he grew up in Romania,” he said.

Alex says his father was a boxer and a cyclist in his youth.

“He only had about four fights, so his boxing career ended quite young, but his cycling career lasted a long time,” said Alex.

Drish says Lafkovici was given pieces of bikes when he was young and would put them together and take off on his bike for the day whenever he could.

She says he continued cycling his whole life—be it on the stationary bike at home, or around the Aspotagan Peninsula (near Halifax) where they had a summer cottage, or just going for rides after work with a friend.

“It was his passion forever,” she said. “I think it was an accomplishment for him every time he did it.”

Lafkovici regularly participated in long-distance cycling events like the Joseph Howe Century ride (100km) and the Heartland Tour (a ride from Yarmouth to Cape Breton to raise awareness about heart health; Dr. Lafkovici often did the Yarmouth to Digby leg).

A lifelong dream of his was to complete the Paris-Roubaix, a classic 260 km race in France of which more than 50 km are over cobblestones. The race is in April but amateurs can ride the course every second June – Lafkovici did a 125 km version in 2011.

At 66 he did the PEI Gran Fondo; a 120 km ride.

“I think he inspired a lot of people riding like he did well into his 60s,” said Drish.

Grant Creighton, a dentist who worked in the same building with Dr. Lafkovici for 20 years, said the office has been a lonely place since November, when Dr. Lafkovici took suddenly ill.

“I still come into work and and I’m looking for him to pop his head out and have something funny to say,” he said. “We used to get into these conversations, he would talk about Alex, and he was always interested in my children, 10 or 15 minutes would go by and we’d realize we both had to go, we had patients.”

Creighton said you never knew what Lafkovici was going to come out with.

“He was pretty witty and he had a way of saying things that just made you laugh,” he said. “There was never a sense of urgency, he was such an easy fellow to talk to.”

Jocelyn Pulchny, who worked as Dr. Lafkovici’s assistant for six months, said he was the same with his staff.

“Every day after work, he would sit down and put his feet up and he’d just want to talk, about the day, about personal stuff, about his family,” she said. “He would tell me some stories about the patients—just so I’d understand, so I’d get to know them too.

“He wanted to make sure they were looked after, that they were cared for.”

She said his appointments often ran late, as he talked and listened to his patients.

“But 99 per cent of the people in the waiting room were happy to wait because they knew when it was their turn, it was going to be all about them,” she said.

Pulchny says closing the office was difficult.

“People were just constantly streaming in,” she said. “They were grieving so much and every single one of them said he was much more than a doctor to them.”

Alex and Drish spent the last several months looking after Lafkovici, staying by his side at the Digby General Hospital.

Near the end, Alex asked his father if he was still enjoying life, stuck in the hospital and his condition worsening.

“I love being here with you,” was his father’s answer. “I love you and I’m happy being here with you.”

Dr. Lafkovici passed away peacefully on Friday, Feb. 21 at Digby General Hospital.

There will be two visitations at Jayne’s Funeral Home on Birch Street in Digby on Monday, Feb. 24; one in the afternoon from 2 to 4 p.m. and one in the evening from 7 to 9 p.m.

The Obituary of Vladimir Lafkovici

jriley@digbycourier.ca