Dr. Gavril Hercz

By Humber River Hospital

Dr. Gavril Hercz has been practicing nephrology since 1986, first at the old Wellesley Hospital and then here at Humber. Since he arrived here in 1998, he has helped build the hospital’s current nephrology program, which is comprised of eight nephrologists, caring for more than 600 patients on dialysis.

Something that Dr. Hercz has noticed in his three decades of treating people with kidney failure is the toll that this chronic condition exacts, not only on the body but also on the spirit. In particular, the transition to dialysis can be extremely difficult.

“It is a combination of things that make this such an emotionally challenging situation,” says Dr. Hercz. “Overnight one has to come to terms with the need to be attached to a machine to be able to go on living. Added to that is the difficult work of mourning the loss of independence, functionality, and hope for a normal life. As well there is the impact on families. In a sense, it’s not only the patient who becomes ill, but the whole family unit.”

Fortunately for many patients, Dr. Gavril Hercz has long had another interest, and that is psychoanalysis. He spent ten years, outside his regular practice, becoming a qualified psychoanalyst, member of the Canadian Psychoanalytic Society. Once qualified, he began applying his skills to improving the care that Humber is able to offer its kidney patients. He calls it psychonephrology.

“We noticed a high level of anxiety and depression in patients starting dialysis therapy. Hence we developed a Transition Care Unit, for patients starting dialysis. Aside from providing the usual medical care, there is an added focus on the psycho-social needs of the patients, with careful monitoring of their emotional state and reasoning abilities. We don’t just deliver a physical treatment. We expand it, providing the empathy and emotional support needed during this difficult transition .”

In the six years that Dr. Hercz and the nurses have focused on psychonephrology, patients have begun to respond. Their anxious and depressed moods have improved during the four to six weeks of focused care. More of them have the confidence to transition from the hospital to home dialysis. In addition, other hospitals have begun emulating this program. He has even received calls of interest from American hospitals.

This July Dr. Hercz was selected by the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA) as the inaugural winner of their IPA in the Community Award in Health, with a focus on the “interface between the mind and the physical health of individuals.”