„I know that I am right: my therapy is the key to fighting age-related illnesses“
Author: Saskia Draxler
The life work of the Doctor and Scientist of Geriatrics, Professor Dr Dr Ana Aslan was world-renown during her lifetime. Studies about the improvement and increase in physical abilities with the use of specially developed treatments by Prof Aslan proved, in the 60's and 70's, the value of focussed therapies, substances and active agents, as well as timely prevention.
Ana Aslan did not only concentrate on the treatment of the numerous older people and those living in old age homes, no - on the contrary -, she involved herself without compare for the working population and the sustaining of the work force in business.
Braila is a Rumanian port and is situated on the Danube not far from where it runs into the Black Sea. The rural region around Braila forms the Eastern part of the Walachei, bordered by the Transylvanian Alps. According to legend, Vlad Tepes, better known as Count Dracula, ruled here in the 15th Century. Since then, Braila has become an important industrial centre with more than 230 000 inhabitants. From the end of the 16th C to the beginning of the 20th C, however, it was a picturesque small town which looked like a busy oriental trading centre. Around the warehouses and granaries in the harbour and around the settlements of the foreign trade companies, there was animated business both day and night. The teeming market places in the inner city were lined with market stalls and shops in which one could buy imported wares as well as regional specialities. Apart from bakery produce like honey cakes, ginger cakes and the popular “Cosonac”, a plaited yeast cake containing raisins and cocoa powder, which is eaten at Christmas time in Rumania, most of the offered wares consisted of exotic spices and colourful materials. Miniature mountains of nuts, raisins, curry powder and chilli pods were found on the wooden tables, next to baskets of fruit and bundles of select fabrics. Above all was the hum of the mixture of languages of the Italian, Greek, French and Turkish dealers. The proximity and mix of the nationalities produced a cosmopolitan ambience. An inordinately rich cultural life consisting of theatre, art and literature had established itself in Braila. In short, the small town pulsed with life.
On the 1st January, 1897, Ana Aslan was born into this lively and cosmopolitan atmosphere, as the daughter of the merchant Margarit Aslan and his wife, Sofia. They had 5 children of whom 4 survived, two boys Bombonel and Sergiu, and two girls, Angela and Ana. Ana was the youngest child and, as was soon to become evident, the most inquisitive and ambitious.
In diese lebendige und weltoffene Atmosphäre wurde am 1. Januar 1897 Ana Aslan als Tochter des Kaufmanns Margarit Aslan und seiner Frau Sofia geboren. Von ihren insgesamt fünf Kindern überlebten vier, zwei Jungen, Bombonel und Sergiu und zwei Mädchen, Angela und Ana. Ana war von den Kindern das jüngste und, wie sich bald herausstellen sollte, das neugierigste und ehrgeizigste.
Margarit Aslan was born of Rumanian parents. He came from a family which had produced well-known personalities in the fields of science and literature, and had a pronounced sense for elegance and irony. In the evenings, after his daily dealings in the grain trade, the kind-hearted man and loving father preferred to be at home with his intellectual friends, with poets, artists and musicians. Margarit Aslan was 59 years old when Ana was born. She was especially spoilt by him, not least because she seemed proof of his youthfulness and virility. He always regarded her with pride and love. There was an exceptionally intense relationship between Ana and her father. She idolised him and emulated him with all her being. His approval spurred her ambition and she became a real “Wunderkind”. She could read and write at the age of 4 years. She was serious and less playful than other children her age, enjoyed going to school, had great moral courage, and asserted herself. Little Ana was not interested in dolls and children's games, she preferred participating in the lives and discussions of grown-ups. She loved to be present when her parents received guests at home, and engaged in lively discussions about art and politics, usually in French.
Ana's mother, Sofia, nee Popovici hailed from an old family from Bukovina. She was 25 years younger than her husband, was an impressively beautiful and elegant, and had regular calm features. She spoke fluent German, French, Russian and Polish, and just like her husband, also loved classical music and literature. She also played chess and even cycled.
She designed and made all her and her children's clothing. This was a talent that Ana inherited from her and kept up all her life, in spite of her busy work day. Sofia Aslan was full of drive and joie de vivre. Nothing seemed impossible to her. Ana inherited her fighting spirit, her courage and her great ability to persevere which would later help her not to be discouraged by setbacks.
The Aslans lived in the tradition of the nobility, in which Sofia had her roots. They lived in a reasonably large house with 12 rooms. These included a lounge with a white marble fireplace, a small salon with a piano, a room furnished in the Turkish fashion with soft sofas and oriental hookahs, as well as a guest room, a large dining room and the four bedrooms for the children. The parents lived in the upper storey together with an old aunt who had a nervous illness and had the fairytale name of “Nénufura”. In winter, everyone gathered in front of the crackling fire in the fireplace in the lounge. Margarit read the children fairy tales by Ileana Cosinzeana, while Sofia, who spoke fluent German,read the children tales of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson. Ana and Angela played the piano together, and sometimes Sergiu joined them on the violin.
One day a fire broke out in the Aslan home. A candle had fallen from the piano and set the curtains alight. The oldest son, Sergiu, woke the neighbours and called the fire brigade. Everyone fled the house, except Ana who couldn't dream of abandoning her beloved home to the fire. After the excitement had subsided, they found her in the kitchen where she was calmly filling a pot with water to fight the flames with courage and determination.
The family home had no garden, but in Spring and Summer, when Braila became a sea of flowers, the children went to the nearby city park to play. Ana preferred running to the harbour, fascinated by the busy comings and goings. She could listen to the bargaining of the merchants for hours, and observe the to-and-fro's of the wares as well as the arrival and departure of the laden ships.
Einen besonders großen Wert legten die Aslans auf die Ausbildung ihrer Kinder. Beide Brüder absolvierten das Polytechnikum in Dresden und wurden Ingenieure der Chemie. Der älteste Bruder starb im Alter von 25 Jahren. Er hinterließ eine Serie von Arbeiten über innovative Konzepte in der Zuckerindustrie. Auch der zweite Bruder machte sich einen Namen auf diesem Gebiet. Angela, die vier Jahre ältere Schwester, war künstlerisch begabt und mit einem besonderen Talent für die Malerei ausgestattet. Ana jedoch sollte den für damalige Verhältnisse für eine Frau ungewöhnlichsten Weg gehen.
Zwischen 1907 und 1910 besuchte sie die Grundschule und trat danach in das dem Elternhaus gegenüberliegende Romanescu Gymnasium ein. Dort lernte sie Arithmetik und Geometrie, Latein und Griechisch, ihre besondere Vorliebe aber galt der Literatur. Sie lernte die rumänischen Schriftsteller kennen, vertiefte sich jedoch vor allem in die Bücher Dostojewskis und des französischen Romanciers Balsac. Beide schilderten intensiv die menschliche Gefühlswelt, das Taumeln zwischen Glück und Unglück, zwischen Erfüllung und Verfall. Vom hoffnungslosen Ausgeliefertsein gegenüber dem eigenen Schicksal, einer elementaren Erfahrung, die die fiktiven Gestalten der Romanschriftsteller immer wieder durchleben müssen, wird sich Ana im realen Leben niemals in die Knie zwingen lassen.
Zunächst waren es noch die Herausforderungen einer jungendlichen Neugier, die Ana reizten. Als die Zeitungen plötzlich voll waren von Berichten über Aurel Vlaicu, den rumänischen Flugpionier, war Ana spontan begeistert und nahm sich sofort vor, Pilotin zu werden. Die Ausflüge zum Hafen reichten längst nicht mehr aus, um ihren Hunger nach Abenteuer zu stillen, und so setzte sie alles daran, ihre neue Idee zu verwirklichen. Sofia, ihre Mutter, war natürlich besorgt um Anas Sicherheit, andererseits hatte sie aber Verständnis und durchaus Sympathie für den Mut und die große Energie ihrer agilen Tochter, die ihr in so vielem ähnlich war. Kurz darauf bat sie schließlich einen Freund der Familie, den Piloten Andrei Popovici, Ana einmal auf einem Flug mitzunehmen. Außer sich vor Vorfreude reiste sie zusammen mit ihrem Vetter und ihrem älteren Bruder Sergiu nach Bukarest, wo sie Popovici auf dem Flugplatz in Cotroceni treffen sollten. Die ganze Fahrt über war Ana unruhig und befürchtete ständig, sie könnten zum Start der Maschine zu spät kommen. Die Jungen lachten sie aus und hänselten sie, indem sie ihr das Horrorszenario eines Absturzes ausmalten. Ana hatte keine Angst. Nichts konnte sie einschüchtern, nicht einmal der Anblick der kleinen Coanda-Bristol Maschine, die, das musste sie sich eingestehen, wenig vertrauenswürdig auf dem Rollfeld stand, und die sie wenig später mit in die Lüfte nehmen sollte. Sie war, wie sie selber einmal sagte, verrückt vor Erfahrungsdrang, und Narren haben keine Angst. Der Pilot ließ sie einsteigen und startete das Triebwerk. Ein bisschen neidisch sahen die beiden Jungen ihnen von unten nach, als die Maschine abhob. Der Flieger hielt mit seinem Können nicht hinterm Berg. Er hatte sich für Ana ein besonderes Showprogramm ausgedacht. Abrupt zog er die Maschine stark nach oben, inszenierte kurz darauf einen Sturzflug und drehte nach erneutem Anstieg wilde Loopings, kurz, er führte Ana sein ganzes Repertoir vor. Wer einmal in einer solchen Sportmaschine geflogen ist, weiß, wie sich mit den Loopings der Magen dreht. Ana gestand später ein, dass selbst ihr dabei ein wenig mulmig wurde. Dennoch war es ihr ein unvergessliches Erlebnis. Noch oft sollte sie in ihrem späteren Leben mit Passagierflugzeugen die ganze Welt bereisen, doch dieses atemberaubende Schwindelgefühl, der unvergleichliche Taumel der Lüfte von damals, blieb dabei aus. Nach der Landung sah ihr Popovici in das leicht blasse Gesicht und fragte triumphierend: „Na, sollen wir noch einmal fliegen?“ „Ich habe nichts dagegen einzuwenden“, antwortete sie dem verblüfften Piloten. Sergiu und ihr Vetter trauten ihren Augen nicht, als das Flugzeug ein zweites Mal zum Start anhob. Diesmal flog Popovici die Conda-Bristol sanft wie eine Möwe und Ana war nun gänzlich begeistert.
Später, in den 70er Jahren, lud der Barsilianer Quintero Ramirez sie einmal ein, bei einem Flug mit seinem Privatflugzeug den Dschungel des Amazonas aus der Luft zu betrachten. Als während des Flugs ein heftiger Sturm ausbrach, der die Maschine hin- und herschüttelte, erinnerte sich Ana Aslan an das Gefühl von damals und genoss sichtlich die Aufregung, während ein mitreisender Mitarbeiter die schlimmsten Minuten seines Lebens durchlebte.
Ihren Pilotenschein hat Ana nie erworben. Andere Ereignisse nahmen ihren Lauf.
When Margarit Aslan died at the age of 72, from inexorably progressing tuberculosis of the lungs, Ana had just turned 13 years. Helpless and despairing, she had to watch her beloved father succumb to the illness as the medicine available at that time could not help. This far-reaching event shook her world to such a degree that she decided to fight that helplessness. Her calling to study medicine and, after the completion of her studies, to major in Gerontology, was a direct result. Although she could not reverse the death of her father, she was determined to research a lively, complaint- free, and humanitarian ageing process in the service of mankind. She decided to fight from then on the seeming inevitability of ageing in people, their illness and their death. The painful loss of the most important person in her young life decisively influenced her future and caused her to grow up from one minute to the next. Therefore her childhood ended very early, and with a strong decision. The pain of her loss was to be changed into pure work energy from then onwards.
In spite of being a merchant, Margarit Aslan was more of an aesthetic person than a businessman. He did not have a deep understanding or genuine interest in finances. It seems as if he was also a definite gambler. When he died the entire family fortune had been wasted, and difficult times followed for the family. The large house in Braila had to be sold, and the entire family moved to Bucharest. Here Ana finished her last 3 years of school at the famous Central School of the capital, and finished her Abitur in 1915.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, it was extremely unusual for a young woman to study medicine. In Rumania, people were forced to conform to a special degree to conservative social rules which did not make provision for women to have a career in science. Ana's wish to become a doctor directly contrasted with what was regarded as an ideal development to become a wife and mother. It split the family. Her mother was against the length of her university studies. The family did not have the necessary finances. Her mother was sure that a hospital was not the right place for a young lady. Mother and daughter, so similar in character, started a unrelenting power struggle. Although Ana loved her mother Sofia more than anyone else, she opposed her with all her might, and finally used a draconian method to get her own way: she began a hunger-strike.
Partly from love and worry about her child, partly in admiration of Ana's persistence, Sofia relented. An ecstatic Ana took the train to Bucharest the very next day. On the 13th October 1915, she was admitted to the medical faculty of the university and, in spite of her fears, she did not have to pay study fees, because her mother was a widow and without income. In an astonishing mixture of intelligence and superstition, she later said that the number 13 always brought her luck.
The first year of studies was difficult. After the in-depth study of Osteology, the science of the skeleton system, there were regular visits to the dissecting room. It was stuffy and dark there, and the bodies gave off an absolutely unbearable smell. The cooling was inadequate, especially in the exceptionally warm Autumn of 1915. Nevertheless, Ana's calling took her to the dissecting table day by day. She was fascinated by the labyrinths of nerves, vessels, and muscle tissue. Her insight, that the anatomical structures of the human body were a brilliant construction on nature, let her forget all her obstacles.
One day, while trying to expose the inaccessible Maxilla artery, together with its delicate connections, Aslan had her first pioneering medical idea. She injected a contrast substance to make the delicate connections more visible and achieved a convincing result with this simple procedure. Professor Toma Ionescu was impressed when he saw the exactness of the dissection, and insisted on meeting the student who had done it. You can imagine his astonishment when he met Ana Aslan, the only female student of the entire faculty. He prophesied a great career for her in the area of surgery and invited her to join him at his clinic whenever she was ready.
In 1916, Rumania joined the First World War, as part of the Entente on the side of France, Great Britain and Russia. Ana was called as “volunteer” at the front at Lasi. First she worked in the department of infectious diseases at the military hospital. Later, she was transferred to surgery where she met Prof Toma Ionescu again, who called her his “little surgeon”, and who was the first in a row of “substitute fathers”. As a child, a love for her father fuelled her thirst for knowledge. Just so, in her later life, meeting famous men, whom she admired because of their medical achievements, was always stimulating to her. Toma Ionescu was a great example to Ana Aslan, who had just begun to make a career in medicine, and he remained her example for ever. The time in the military hospital was important for her development in many ways. How many wounded had she not treated and bandaged at the front? Medicine was never only of scientific knowledge for her, but especially had humanitarian, ethical, moral, and creative value. As a doctor, she always involved herself in creating a better life for people. War time, with its senseless horror, would never fade from her memory.
When she came back in 1919 to Bucharest, in the third year of her medical training, she applied to become an assistant doctor to the great Rumanian neurologist, Prof Gheorge Marinescu. During her time there, she went through the Departments of Neurology, Paediatrics, Surgery, Gynaecology, as well as the Departments for diseases of the skin and vessels, for Infectious Diseases and for Inner medicine. She was responsible for a certain number of patients, whom she diagnosed and prescribed the first therapeutic measures. She always waited impatiently for the visit of the relevant Chief Medical Officer, whom she bombarded with questions. She later described this time of her studies as the most fruitful of her entire training. She was responsible for everything, but she had teachers whom she could ask for advice and who took the responsibility for decisions which exceeded her experience. She interrogated the “masters”, as she called her superiors, with great exactness and interest. During the hospital visits, she absorbed everything from her male examples that she could take in with her senses and intellect.
The most well-known and brilliant among these, was without a doubt, Prof Gheorge Marinescu himself. He was a well-known personality in the “Rumanian Association for Medicine”. From him, Ana Aslan heard about Geriatrics for the first time. Building on studies and research about the human nerve system, he published a book “The Nerve Cell” in Paris in 1909. This book focussed in depth on the theme of the ageing process of the brain. In it he describes that as the single nerve cell ages in conjunction with the general ageing process, this is based on ultra fine changes in the cell structure. This brilliant man had some very eccentric aspects to his personality. He arrived at 6 o' clock in the morning, and was always the last one to leave the laboratory. He thought buses and taxis were far too expensive, and usually arrived in the milkman's car, who had picked him up as he delivered the milk for the patients. Apart from Prof, Toma Ionescu, and Prof Daniel Danielopolou, her later doctor- father, Marinescu also qualifies as one of Aslan's substitute fathers. His later publication “The Problem of Ageing and Natural Death” (Published in 1924) is dedicated to her with these words “For Doctor Ana Aslan, as a sign of recognition for her merits in the research on the physiology of nerves and chronic illnesses. I am convinced that natural death is a natural process, as well as ageing is a natural necessary process.” The Book had a place of honour in her bookshelf, and she often referred to it while trying to disprove her mentor's prognosis and to stop the process of ageing and long life.
In 1921, she successfully completed the examination in Internal Medicine as the first of 32 candidates.
Prof Daniel Danielopolou, the Chairman of the Examining body, congratulated her in a very direct manner: “I congratulate you, young lady, for the first place in these examinations, although I regret that a young man did not achieve this position.” In 1922, Ana Aslan completed her State Examination and went to the Bucharest Clinic II, which was headed by Danielopolou who also became her doctor-father, as a Dissector. She worked for him as a Resident Doctor as well as University Assistant. He initiated her into the secrets of clinical medicine and, under his tutelage, she formulated the scientific opinions which became the foundation for her academic career. It was always her aim to learn as much as possible. Everything unknown fascinated her, and she was determined to unveil any new knowledge. She was always pursuing the next discovery. In this time, she had only the most vague idea that all this was serving to prepare her for her real goal, Gerontology and Geriatrics.
The two decades between the 2 World Wars were among the most important of modern Rumanian history. At this time, Rumania was considered as the California of Europe. The “Island of Latinity” which had survived 2 000 years, was glowing with intellectual power and freedom. In 1921, the first democratic constitution was introduced. Nicolai Titulescu, the Foreign Minister, was the designated President of the United Nations. He initiated “the small Atlantic Pact” from 1920 – 1921. Parts of Maldavia were given back to Rumania, after the Turks had relinquished them to Russia some time ago. Bucharest was called “Little Paris”, symphony orchestras and theatre productions were in constant demand, and the Rumanian medical centres became very famous. No wonder that colleagues from all over Europe visited Rumania. For some centuries, Rumania had been the buffer against Ottoman Empire for Western Europe. In Yalta, it was influenced by the Soviets, and for more than 40 years, had to live with the consequences.
Ana Aslan commented on these events from her point of view: “Of course the Russians left us Communism ….... after 1945, however, the Communists openly deceived Northern Maldavia and Northern Bukovina. They simply gave up the country without giving back the wealth or stolen treasures. I do not understand this political setup.”
During her time with Prof Danielopolou, she researched the vegetative nervous system of humans and animals. She was one of the first scientists to use the plethymographic method for researching the circulation. For 2 years, she worked on her PhD entitled “Cercertari privind inervatia vazomatoare la om”, translated: “The Contribution to researching the Nervous System.” Danielopolou with whom she had developed a friendly and very fruitful working relationship, assured her that the work was very interesting, and pointed out many theoretic and practical questions that could be connected to the theme and extended. In 1924, she defended her dissertation and received the title “Doctor of Medicine magna cum laude”. In spite of her success, she was not sure whether the medical journals would take the scientific articles of a woman seriously enough, and asked Danielopolou to sign as her co- author. A few months later, her articles appeared in a number of journals at the same time. She was overjoyed to see her name on paper for the first time under words for which she had fought so hard.
In 1923, Ana Aslan was a founder member of the “Hospital Association of Bucharest”. In 1928, of the “Society for Neuro Vegetative Physiology”. For her involvement in the medical community as well as her scientific works during the Thirties, she received the title of a Member of the “Rumanian Academy of Medicine” in 1936.
During the Second World War, Ana again cared for wounded soldiers and continued her research at the same time. As a doctor in her own practice, which she opened in her parent's home, she was well-liked, but did not have many patients. Prof Danielopolou explained that women preferred to be examined and treated by a man since they trusted men more. This is a fact which is difficult to appreciate from a modern point of view. Danielopolou further explained that men were forbidden by their wives for moral reasons to see a woman doctor with intimate bodily matters. The original disappointment about the lack of patients in her own practice disappeared as her other duties increased.
Between 1936 and 1944, she worked as the Head of Cardiology at the hospital of CFR (the Rumanian Railways). At the same time, she was the Chief Medical Officer of the clinical section of the University at the Philanthropic Hospital in Bucharest. In the CFR hospital there were mainly retired railway workers. Ana had a very intense contact with these older people. Apart from the usual treatment with medicine, she made sure that they had a healthy diet and exercise, as well as organising improvements of the exterior conditions of the house. She was extremely loving to her patients and, at the same time, she was scientifically greatly interested in their medical histories. She felt that she could learn a great deal from them. To study medicine without books is like sailing the ocean without a map. But studying medicine without patients is like not sailing at all. That was her philosophy. She befriended her patients and considered them her “parents”. At the New Year 1938, on her 51st birthday, she received a birthday card which read, “With feelings of deep gratitude to Dr Aslan who treats these toys which have been broken by life's demands, with both passion and devotion.” The card had been signed by a couple of elderly patients. She often remembered the sad, poetic words “broken toys”. They contained a challenge to do something for these people, a challenge to spend more time with them, and she often asked herself if one could not fix these “broken toys”.
In 1940, she began to lecture about cardiovascular diseases at the University of Bucharest, and she developed into an acknowledged specialist in this field.
In 1945, Ana Aslan received an invitation to be the Head of Department at the Medical Clinic at the city of Timissoara (Temeswar). Although it pained her to leave the capital Bucharest where she had been so respected and had many patrons, she decided to take the position. She knew that it was time to emancipate herself from her great examples, and to follow her own path. One last time, she thought about all her mentors: Prof Toma Ionescu, at whose side she worked during the First World War and who had called her his “little surgeon”. He was a grumpy person with a heart of gold, whose empathy with his patients made a deep impression on Ana. However, she never became a surgeon. Prof Gheorge Marinescu, the great Neurologist and droll character , who was the first one to introduce her to the science of Geriatrics, made the jealous comment when she joined his younger colleague Danielopolou, “that man is stealing all my good students!” And lastly, Prof Daniel Danielopolou, whom Ana often called her “true master”. He was a man of rare intelligence, very alert, logical and a theoriser, and at the same time, a shrewd judge of character. He was only interested in his work, and Ana often received his judgement as if he were an attorney. She enjoyed looking up to his independent genius, but also felt the need to free herself from the student-teacher relationship:
“A shining light attracts the creative spirit and draws it into its circle. But it can also block its view. The most impressive oak trees cast the greatest shadows, and only small trees can grow beneath them. The wind has to blow the seeds to more fertile soils.”
The building from the 19th century which housed the clinic of Timissoara, looked more like a jail than a hospital. There were 200 beds and high walls with small windows. Only occasionally did the sun penetrate. The main entrance was closed by a massive medieval wooden gate, which led to a geometric centre-court. This all caused a very old-fashioned and intimidating atmosphere. The clinic personnel were extremely excited to meet their new Head. When an elegant lady with a warm smile entered the room, the ice of respect and tense expectations began to melt away immediately. This was no strict demigod in white, but an involved doctor who showed great empathy with the suffering of her patients. She involved the entire staff in her examinations, and set great store on all empirical observations inside the clinic. She taught her colleagues, that theory without practical knowledge is useless, and science without a connection to living people, senseless.
Saturday was a day to which the clinic staff looked forward. On this day, Ana Aslan convened everyone to a medical question and discussion round, and she and her colleagues exchanged experiences with great openness. Using cases from the clinic, she discussed the pros and cons of certain methods of treatment. In this way, her younger colleagues were able to benefit from her rich store of experience. This tradition of “Saturday discussions” was continued at the clinic in Timissoara forever. Her greatest innovations in Timissoara, was to demand and follow through a completely new modern hospital which conformed to all the demands of a medical clinic. The “New Clinic” kept its name for decades after it was completed. It was conceptualised according to standards of modern hospital planning: Multi-functional rooms, large windows, and a practical infrastructure.
During this time, Ana Aslan studied the essays of the Neurologist Constantin L. Parhon in depth. After 30 years of clinical experiments, he had decided that ageing was an illness that was treatable. “If a human being dies before his time, this early death must be due to illness and illnesses can be healed.” Parhon was the Director of the Institute for Endocrinology in Bucharest. Once a month, Ana went to the capital city to speak to him. Parhon was a pioneer of Gerontology. He believed in the possibility of “rejuvenation” and argued that life was not a process that went in one direction only. He treated his patients with epiphytic plant extracts and glandular substances, with Insulin and Vitamin E. In 1909, he published his first book about Endocrinology, 1955 the “Biology of Ageing” was published, and was translated into many different languages. The wish to overcome death may seem unrealistic or belong to the sphere of religion, rather than serious science. Its actual potential, however, is the belief that the world can be changed for the better. It was this opinion which Ana Aslan and Constantin L.Parhon shared and which really did lead to results in their experiments which died not lead to eternal life, but slowed down the ageing process and kept people more human and vital.
Parhon translated his opinions into actions in his political life as well. On the 2nd of April 1948, he became the Head of State of the People's Republic of Rumania.
In 1946, Ana Aslan published her first experiments with the substance Procain. The idea had fascinated her while she was working as a ardiologist. She was particularly interested in illnesses of the arteries and treated her patients after the method of the well-known French surgeon René Leriche, who injected Procain for these illnesses. From 1946 to 1949, she achieved very good therapy results with this treatment and began using it for chronic arthrosis, which usually surfaces in advanced age. In Timissoara, she injected these patients with the substance vascularly and regularly over a longer period of time. She soon noticed a mild improvement of the symptoms, but especially the very clear improvement in the general condition of the patients being treated. They began to show an interest in life, read, chatted animatedly, and were interested in their futures and in their families. They also seemed to sleep deeply and refreshingly. It followed that one could assume that Procain had an overall positive effect on the psycho-physical condition of patients, and its greatest gift to them was and improved quality of life. The foundations for the development of Gero-H3-Aslan had been laid.
On 15th April 1949, Ana Aslan had a breakthrough. A young medical student with an advanced knee-arthrosis, came to her clinic. He was in terrible pain and had not been able to use his knee for three weeks. She told him about her experiments with Procain, and he allowed her to administer the substance intravenously. She injected a 1% solution and did not have long to wait for the result, which was nothing short of miraculous. He was able to move his knee immediately and stretch out his leg without pain. She continued the treatment for 2 more weeks, until the student had recovered completely.
After these indisputable successes, Ana Aslan started thinking. Near the clinic was the park of Timissoara. Here she often sat in the afternoons during a short break from her work and watched the old people. She often saw an old couple, leaning against each other for support and able only to take tiny steps. Another old gentleman sat on a bench leaning on his crutches, holding his head in his hands, personifying despair. Why, thought, Ana Aslan, could one not help these people? She kept on returning to the park. She felt a deep empathy for these old people. If the young student could walk again after the injections, and the other patients felt so much more alive after regular treatments with Procain, why should the response not be just as positive with these old people? Instead of this, one had written them off. Ana was possessed by the idea to help them and bring them back into a full life.
At last she decided to go to Bucharest with her discoveries. Prof Danielopolou advised her to inform Parhon of her results immediately. He was immediately persuaded that Procain had a positive effect on the ageing process. He advised her to continue her experiments and invited her to become the head of his Experimental Department in Bucharest. He would make all the necessary arrangements. It seemed urgent to both of them, and a few months later she was back in Bucharest. The adventure had begun in Timissoara, and continued in the capital city, where the actual battle was to begin.
When she wanted to present the results of her experiments to the Rumanian Academy of Medicine, she noticed that envy had spread amongst her colleagues, the scientists Milcu, Lupu, Nicolau, and Benetato argued against her. They required 25 cases as proof and refused to listen to Aslan's lecture at the next session of the Academy. She took the setback philosophically. After all, Alzheimer had grounded his findings on one single case, and Hodgkin only on 6. Both of them had been proved correct. Her fighting spirit made her immune to setbacks. Gradually, the attacks only made Ana more ambitious than ever before. Life would be boring without conflicts, even though the arguments with the colleagues often turned personal. How could a woman dare to try and equal them or even overtake them? She generously forgave their mean-spiritedness
In the immediate neighbourhood there was a small old age home, which Ana Aslan and Constantin L.Parhon began visiting together regularly in November 1949. During a visit there, Ana had the idea to open an institute exclusively for the research of symptoms and methods of treatment which influenced the ageing process of humans: an Institute for Gerontology and Geriatrics. Due to her earlier experiences, she feared that the Academy would not listen to her. Parhon, on the contrary, had great influence there and besides, he was a man. It was as before when she had to use the name of Prof Danielopolou as co-author for tactical reasons to be able to publish her medical research. Again, she was more interested in her subject than in fame. In the following year, she persuaded her friend to work out the idea for the Institute with her, and in 1951 this was presented to the Rumanian Academy for Medicine. Parhon, the official presenter, declared that all research pertaining to the ageing process seemed extraordinarily promising and that the prevention of premature ageing had increasing sociological meaning. It would therefore be meaningful to train specialists in the area of the Science of Ageing, and for this purpose, found their own Institute for Gerontology and Geriatrics. On 21 January 1952, the Academy accepted his proposal. The first official head was Prof Constantin L. Parhon with Prof Ana Aslan as Substitute Director at his side. On 11 March of the same year, the two swapped their roles, a pure formality with which they had only waited not to upset the conservatives of the Academy, as this might have endangered the project.
The next years of development were characterised by the intensive co-operation of the two scientists. Problems were solved together and documents were signed together. From this time onwards, Ana Aslan began to use her typical signature “Prof Dr A. Aslan”, which appeared on the boxes containing her preparations all over the world in the following decades.
The Institute was situated in a sprawling building which had been erected in 1894 by order of Queen Elisabeth, the wife of Charles I of Hohenzollern. It consisted of a 70m long rectangular building with 3 storeys. The long passage was decorated with mosaics and the outer fa?ade bore the symbols of all the regions of Rumania in green terracotta. The structure of the building complemented the requirements of the Institute perfectly. There was a hospital section with 70 beds, a care centre with 110 beds, as well as a department for outpatients. Management, organisation and research as well as the future of the Institute, was soon completely under Ana Aslan's control, while Parhon remained in an advisory position. She introduced departments for “Clinical Gerontology” and for the “Biology of Ageing”. Dr Cornel David, who had studied with Prof Vaques in France, and Prof Volhard in Munich, became the Senior Medical Officer for the hospital clinic. Later, he became Deputy Director and remained in that position until 1974. In the Department for “Biology of Ageing” laboratories were established for Physiology, Immunology, Biochemistry, Bio- Physics, Genetics and Tissue Culture. In an annex there was a special laboratory for animal experiments with rabbits, rats and guinea pigs.
With 20 patients in care, Ana Aslan executed continuing examinations and treatments over decades. By 1969, this group had grown to 110 cases, and in 1989 there were still 29 patients under observation. The outpatient department was set up to provide geriatric care for the whole of Bucharest. Another special laboratory for Pathology and Histo-Chemistry (the Science of the Structure of Tissue) was begun. Ana Aslan, however, wanted to do much more than lead a good clinic. In many discussions with Parhon, more far-reaching dreams emerged. She wanted everyone to profit by her method, not only when the symptoms of age-related related degeneration appeared, but before in a preventative action. She dreamed about a prophylactic health system, free to everyone, which would give them the chance to age in dignity and health.
Mit 25 Pflegepatienten führte Ana Aslan über Jahrzehnte kontinuierliche Untersuchungen und Behandlungen durch. Bis zum Jahre 1969 wuchs diese Gruppe an auf 110 Fälle und im Jahre 1989 waren immer noch 29 Patienten unter Beobachtung. Die ambulante Abteilung wurde darauf ausgerichtet, geriatrische Fürsorge für ganz Bukarest zu leisten. Ein weiteres Speziallabor für Pathologie und Histochemie (Wissenschaft vom Aufbau der Gewebe) wurde eingerichtet. Ana Aslan wollte jedoch mehr als nur eine gute Klinik führen. Aus den vielen Gesprächen mit Constantin L. Parhon gingen weit kühnere Wunschgebilde hervor. Sie wollte, dass alle Menschen von ihrer Methode würden profitieren können, und zwar nicht erst dann, wenn sich die Symptome altersbedingter Verschleißerscheinungen schmerzhaft bemerkbar machten, sondern schon vorher zur Vorbeugung müssten Maßnahmen ergriffen werden. Sie träumte von einem, dem ganzen Volk frei zur Verfügung stehenden prophylaktischen Gesundheitssystem, das allen Menschen die Chance geben würde, in Würde und Gesundheit möglichst alt zu werden.
In 1957, the preparation was marketed with which Ana Aslan treated her patients: Gero-H3-Aslan. Together with the chemist Elena Polovrageanu, they succeeded in stabilising the Procain molecule in a new chemical formula. With that, Grovital H3 was born, a product that was to go around the world and has been imitated more than 150 times up to today. In July 1958, Ana Aslan submitted the protocol of the research to the state Bureau for Inventions, and on the 19th November 1958, the patent was issued for “Gerovital H3: Procain product for the Treatment of Ageing and other Metabolic Diet-Related Illnesses” as listed under the Number 42270.
During the 50's, Rumania was relatively cut off from the Western world, because of the Cold War. Little information about the work of the Institute reached the world. Sick people, diagnosed by their doctors as incurable, wanted to get to know Ana Aslan's methods. Treatment with Procain seemed their last hope for the lessening or even healing of their age-related complaints. In England, for example, public pressure became so huge that the British “Medical Society for the Care of the Elderly” were forced to invite Prof Ana Aslan.
On the 18th November, the 62 year old arrived, youthfully vital as always, in London. Her energy and vitality were observed with surprise by those visiting Gerontologist who had come to see her out of curiosity. Day and night there was a stream of patients seeking help in her hotel room. During official functions, she was treated in a typical British way: polite, but distant. It was obvious that certain journalistic and medical circles were filled with doubt and animosity under the surface.
Two years before, on 3 September 1956, during her first appearance in a western country, during the Therapy Congress in Karlsruhe, she had bitter experiences. Her thoughts on delaying ageing or even death by treatment with Procain considered as dubious to say the least, at this renowned congress. She was laughed at as a quack and called blasphemous. They demanded far more extensive studies as proof of success of the treatment than she could demonstrate at the time. Especially the delegates insisted on the so-called double-blind studies and other abstract scientific processes and disregarded Ana Aslan's years of experience in direct contact with her patients. Was it the old rejection, was it the arrogance toward her country of origin, or was it simple envy? Not to be recognised in Karlsruhe was very hurtful to her. In London, however, she had already learnt how to handle adversity. In spite of her icy reception from the experts, and the great strain of seeing hundreds of patients, Ana Aslan remained brave and stayed quiet and sensitive until the last case.
She was convinced of the accuracy of her therapies. “I know that I am right! Procain therapy is the key to fighting age-related illnesses. One day all Medics will recognise that. There will always be people who make new discoveries and prove and defend them, and other who refuse to accept and attack these new procedures which often bring change with them. Unfortunately, the doctors who refuse to accept my methods of treatment are those people who do not know the therapy at all, and do not have the competence to apply it or even to judge it.”
Against all odds, she was made the Chairman for Prophylactic Medicine by the World Health Organisation in 1959. More and more responsibilities came her way, while her Institute for Gerontologist and Geriatrics in Bucharest grew steadily. Ana Aslan came nearer to the fulfilment of her life goal: to help older people whom she had loved since her childhood and to whom she dedicated her whole life. There was still deplorable abuses in this area. In 1960, for instance, the totally neglected and starving Parasek Margosian was admitted to the clinic. He simply been dumped in the Strada Caldarusani, where the Institute was. He was 105 years old, weighed 47 kgs and was totally unresponsive. Even Ana Aslan had little hope of helping him in this condition, and thought Procain therapy would be senseless. Nevertheless, she wanted to try everything and began injecting him with the substance regularly. The patient recovered completely, put on weight, and died 11 years later at the biblical age of 116 years. An exception, as Ana Aslan herself declared: “At such an advanced age, revitalisation seems impossible. But when you begin at the age of 45 or 50, the cures will probably be successful.”
More and more empirical studies were being executed. The most extensive comprised the observation of altogether 15,000 industrial labourers over a period of 2 years. About half of these were observed over a period of 8 years. These numbers are unimaginable for modern conditions, and were probably only possible in a Communist country. A study of this extent would be impossible financially because of the daily subsidy that people participating in medical trials would receive today. On the other hand, scientific procedures are so advanced today, that with significant smaller numbers of participants, it is still possible to extract accurate information. The extent of the research contributed by Ana Aslan's Institute in those days remains unbelievable.
Added to “Clinical Gerontology” and to the “Biology of Ageing”, the research complex was completed by adding the important department for “Socio-Gerontology”, which was devoted to the social aspect of human ageing. Gerontology and Geriatrics developed slowly but surely from a peripheral science to an all-encompassing social science. Inter-disciplinary work was most important to Ana Aslan. Her research included not only doctors and biologists, but also sociologists, psychologists, demographers, bio-physicians, pharmacologists, and even mathematicians and economists.
These achievements did not go unnoticed. During the international Symposium for Gerontology, which took place in Kiev in 1963, the Institute for Gerontology and Geriatrics Bucharest was openly lauded for the second time by the WHO. It was praised as a world-wide model for all other institutions of this kind.
Ana Aslan's fame among the specialists for Gerontology and Geriatrics began climbing steeply. More and more doctors and scientists came to Bucharest. They arrived from Germany, Italy, France, the United States, Argentina, Australia and Canada. Patients all over the world wanted to be treated by Pof Dr Ana Aslan. She travelled the entire globe as an ambassador for her goal: the fight against ageing.
She was invited by famous personalities from the Economic, Political and Social spheres, and was invited to the White House in Washington. The list of honours and decorations which she received in the following time reads like an inimitable success story. In 1965, she was made Member of the American Society for Gerontology, in 1968, she was admitted to the Academy of Science in NewYork. In 1971, she received the “Bundesverdienstkreuz” First Class”, and in 1978, she became the National Delegate for Gerontology at the United Nations Organisation.
In 1974, the Institute advanced to the “National Institute for Gerontology and Geriatrics Rumania” with altogether 680 co-workers who all actively involved in the research and area of caring for the aged. Ana Aslan received the title of the “General Director”.
New advances were made for instance a chrono-biological laboratory, in which the order in the progression of life processes was researched.
Important new co-workers such as physiotherapists were co-opted. Today we cannot imagine such an Institute without them.
All over Rumania, Ana Aslan supervised the establishment of Geriatric Clinics. An old dream of Ana and Constantin L. Parhon: the establishment of an all- encompassing Geriatric care for elderly people, not only for the treatment of the obvious symptoms, but also for prophylaxis. 218 Geriatric Clinics were established in the country. Every Rumanian male and female had the right to go for a free ASLAN cure 3 times a year.
During this time, the first Geriatric Hotel Clinics were opened. In her opening speech for the Park Hotel Clinic in July 1974, Ana Aslan named the principles which were the basis of these institutions. Qualified medical examination and care in a hotel atmosphere. Patients recovered better in the atmosphere of the hotel than in a sterile and functional hospital. Mainly for patients from the West, who were being treated in Rumania after the ASLAN method, some very comfortable medical centres were established in hotels. They were situated in regions which were known to be tourist attractions, for instance at the sea. This is how the ASLAN therapy attracted foreign currency for the Communist Rumania.
From 1959 onwards, Ana Aslan tried to gather the entire staff at least once a year to exchange experiences. She organised symposia, conferences and round tables, where all the scientists and doctors of the institute were required to showcase their hypotheses, results and research as well as their experiences with patients. She considered this transparent way of exchanging experiences and passing on knowledge indispensable because Geriatrics was a very knew scientific field. New clinical and therapeutic aspects were brought to the table, and as a side effect, the co- operation in the teams of scientists improved. At such times they learnt to hold constructive talks instead of exhausting themselves in competition.
From 1980 onwards, she organised annual “Days of Gerontology and Geriatrics”. She did not agree with the separation of Gerontology into different fields of expertise, which was in fashion in Europe. She vehemently defended her comprehensive starting point, which maintained that a good gerontologist had to be a good sociologist and a good psychologist at the same time. She is therefore an absolute leader when it comes to inter-disciplinary scientific work. She was delighted by the establishment of the “First Multi-disciplinary Conference for Gerontology” in Brighton in England in September 1987. the first question of the Chairman of the Conference, Sir Ferguson-Anderson, was “Where the devil is Prof Ana Aslan?” Unfortunately she was unable to attend this ground-breaking event for which she herself had so tirelessly campaigned, due to health reasons.
After a tiring battle with the censorship authorities of the Ceausescu Regime, which often seemed a lost cause, March 1980 saw the publication of the “Rumanian Journal for Gerontology and Geriatrics”, an important organ for the publishing and distribution of the scientific results of the Institute within the international medical community. Ana Aslan signed the first thousand letters, which were sent with the journal, personally. It was placed in the subject libraries of medical faculties, distributed to internationally recognised scientists as well as to other Institutes for Gerontology and Geriatrics, and was the only open window to the Western international specialist circles. Even today, it is the only dependable source for the documentation for the scientific results of the Institute in Bucharest.
At the age of 80, Ana Aslan thought and acted like a 40 year old. She fought to make Gerontology and Geriatrics an independent medical speciality at the University, and wanted doctors to be trained in this area and to specialise. She demanded an independent Chair for Gerontology, as well as the revision of exam criteria for medics. Both these requests were refused by the wife of the Dictator, Elena Ceaucescu, who hated the successful scientist Ana Aslan. She directed many requests to the Ministry of education, and the Ministry of health. They were not answered or were answered indecisively.
Working conditions at the Institute had become far more difficult in general. Since Nicolae Ceausescu's coup, Rumania had gradually changed from a Communist to a Totalitarian system. Ana Aslan noticed the change. Possibilities for free scientific research became worse from year to year, and Parhon's influence waned. The pressure of the Ceausescu Regime on the Institute became stronger and stronger. The continuation of the health system Ana Aslan developed for the Rumanian people was endangered. The reduced possibilities to continue her research in Rumania had personal and financial limitations. In an effort to save her life work, she gradually transferred large parts of her “know-how” and her documents to Germany, to the “Deutsche ASLAN Gesellschaft” in Olsberg in the Sauerland.
For a number of reasons, the date for the “First national Conference for Gerontology and Geriatrics” was postponed twice. Ana Aslan was the President. For 3 years she had prepared for this scientific event. She saw it as the most important event in the entire history of the Institute. Finally, the conference was to take place from 9 - 11th June 1988, with international participation. The lectures to be presented there, in the spheres of Ethics and Aesthetics, comparative Anthropology, Chrono-Biology, as well as gerontological philosophy, were revolutionary. Ana Aslan could not be present, her long-postponed fate had caught up with her. Her spirit however, was very present, and at this Conference, her name became a legend.
The odyssey of the Institute for Gerontology and Geriatrics Bucharest was no easy journey and very often its exemplary development experienced difficulties. Looking the difficulties straight in the eye, Ana Aslan would often say the following:
“I shall fight to the bitter end for the truth and for my ideas. My constant motto is: Work, Truth, Light.”
In May 1988, Prof Ana Aslan died in Rumania at the age of 91 years, under unexplained circumstances.
Professor Aslan, were you ever in love?
“Yes, three times. Once, when I was very young. That was not very easy . . . And then again, much later . . .
. . . Daniel Danielopolou was an unusual man. He was a passionate scientists and was completely absorbed in his work. When he had and idea, nothing and nobody could persuade him to leave the laboratory. He was a good teacher. Sometimes I accompanied him on his trips to lecture in Paris . . . Those were times of the greatest mental and spiritual enjoyment! It was wonderful to have a discussion with him, he could become very passionate at such times. He had beautiful eyes the colour and depth of the ocean, and I love the ocean. I love it very much . . .
Later I met Alecu Zaamfirescu, the grandson of the write Duiliu Zaamfirescu, an unbelievably cultured man. He was the Secretary of the Foreign Minister and later became the Ambassador to many different countries. He had friends all over the world . . . I have kept all the poems he wrote for me. . .”
You never married, but were always surrounded by married men. Why?
“I am a person who takes what she does very seriously. I had to be free to use my time freely. I respect the institution of the family, but the bonds represent strong obligations . . .
. . .I felt that I could move something and I was determined to give of my best.”