Just a few days before Christmas 2013, Harry Meinardi died peacefully in The Hague, The Netherlands, the city where he lived for the last part of his highly active life. He was the only person ever to be the President of both the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE) and the International Bureau for Epilepsy (IBE), and his passing is a huge loss for the epilepsy community.
Harry Meinardi was born in Nice, France, on February 20, 1932. Shortly after his birth he went with his parents to the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), where his father worked in the sugar industry and his mother worked as a physician in government hospitals. He was separated from his father when he was 7 years old, when his father went to Burma (Myanmar), where the sugar industry seemed to be more prosperous. With the outbreak of the World War II, Harry was separated from his mother when he was interned at Semarang Bangkong, a labor camp for boys and old men. He remained there until August 23, 1945—8 days after the end of the war. He never saw his parents again. That period had a profound influence on his life. He shared with some of us his memories of happy as well as tragic moments in the Far East, but he always emphasized his love for Indonesia and its people. Up until the last few weeks of his life, Harry was secretary of the Bangkonger, the journal of the former inmates of the camp. Shortly before his death he forwarded to a number of us a picture that he took at a war memorial in Arnhem that commemorated the camp prisoners. It was a statue representing a young camp boy, naked apart from his shorts, carrying the tools of his forced labor: a patjol (an Indonesian type spade) and an axe.
In February 1946, Harry was repatriated with his brother Jan and aunt Hella to The Netherlands as a war orphan. After attending a grammar school in The Hague, he entered the Medical School at Leyden University, where he obtained his M.D. degree in 1957. While working part time as a student in the endocrinology laboratory, he got to know the “Meer en Bosch” center for patients with epilepsy (today known as Stichting Epilepsie Instellingen Nederland-SEIN). This encounter was a landmark event not only for his scientific career, but for the whole world of epileptology. His newly acquired interest in epilepsy led him, soon after his graduation, to a 3-year research project with Professor Jan-Willem Duyff, on the effect of a progesterone derivative on nerve tissue. This project led him to study the occurrence of seizures in connection with the menstrual cycle. Harry then went to the Rockefeller University in New York, where he worked from 1962 to 1966 with Dr. Lyman C. Craig. While there he isolated a peptide of 27 amino acids from brain tissue with the properties of substance P, which was found to provoke epileptiform discharges when applied to the brain in picomolar amounts. In 1966, Harry moved back to The Netherlands to take up employment at the Institute for Epilepsy Management (Instituut voor Epilepsiebestrijding, now SEIN) in Heemstede. That was the beginning of an outstanding career that led him to progress to the position of Director of Epileptology at SEIN (1982–1992). From 1984 to 2000 he was also Professor of Epileptology at the Catholic University of Nijmegen—one of the very first academic chairs in epileptology in the world.
Harry's scientific contribution spanned several key aspects of experimental and clinical epileptology. He was one of the pioneers who demonstrated the importance of pharmacokinetic variability as a factor affecting interindividual differences in the response to antiepileptic drugs (AEDs), and the value of therapeutic drug monitoring in the optimization of epilepsy therapy. His interest in pharmacology, clinical trial methodology, and outcome assessment in epilepsy was a constant in his career and inspired many of us to pursue similar issues.
However, Harry will be remembered for more than his contribution to epilepsy research. He had clear in his mind the need to improve the quality of medical care and to address the psychological and social constraints encountered by people with epilepsy. He was among the first to recognize the benefits of sports for people with epilepsy: in a seminal article written 25 years ago, anticipating the theme of the ILAE Stand Up for Epilepsy Campaign, he advised physicians to “encourage epilepsy patients to participate in sporting activities to enhance their physical fitness, self-esteem, and social integration.” Harry also promoted many initiatives to address disparities in epilepsy care and to reduce the diagnostic and treatment gaps in developing countries.
The Netherlands has been at the forefront of the epilepsy movement before and since the foundation of ILAE in Budapest in 1909, in which Harry's country played a leading role. As Director of one of the most famous epilepsy centers in the world, Harry was the epitome of that tradition following in the footsteps of Louis Muskens, Bernard Christian Ledebor, Albert Lorentz de Haas, Otto Magnus, and Joop Loeber. SEIN was and is dedicated to addressing all of the issues faced by people with epilepsy, and Harry's service as President of both the Bureau (1977–1981) and the League (1989–1993) reflected his commitment to every aspect of patient care and academic epileptology, from the neurochemical and neuropharmacological to the medical, social, and political.
Harry's entire career was committed to people with epilepsy—locally, nationally, and internationally. This he carried out with great dedication, skill, and diplomacy. He had a friendly and engaging style, facilitated by an almost British sense of humor, which endeared him to his colleagues. He was not driven by any philosophical or religious inclinations, but by practical, humanitarian, and diplomatic considerations, with enormous attention to detail. The epilepsy movement has lost a great champion, reflected in his many achievements. We will personally miss our regular, friendly, humorous, but ultimately serious and constructive interactions over many decades.