In the course of the film Raymond wins a fortune in Las Vegas by counting cards in black jack and learns a phone book by heart. He cannot, however, deduct 50 cents from a dollar and is completely helpless in his daily life. His condition is known as autistic savant, with a superb recall but little understanding.
The Rain Man’s character was inspired by Kim Peek, now 58, an American man who can recite 12,000 books from his memory but cannot button up a shirt on his own.
People like Peek are exceptionally rare in the world. As one part of their brain works miracles, another one is in deep sleep. Yet there is an exception to the rule here in Ukraine.
Ukrainian scientist Andriy Slusarchuk, 35, is one of those rare geniuses who could work for NASA if he wanted. He has no trouble with his shirts, either.
He is a practicing neurosurgeon, psychiatrist, university professor and hypnotist. After becoming an orphan at the age of six, he finished school at the age of 9. Three years later he entered an institute in Moscow for a medical degree and then a post-graduate degree in neurosurgery. Then he moved to St. Petersburg to do a degree in psychology. By 27, Slusarchuk finished his medical Ph.D.
He knows 15,000 books by heart, reciting text accurately from any random page. He is a record holder in Ukraine’s Guinness Book of Records for reproducing the value of Pi to its one-millionth decimal place. It is more than the current world record of 42,195 places set by Japanese Hiroyuki Goto.
Even more impressively, he says others can learn his technique. “Imagine a doctor who keeps a whole library in his head,” said Slusarchyk. “Remember the nuclear blast in Chernobyl when an operator failed to remember instructions well and on time.” The scientist claims that he knows how to stretch people’s memories to save lives in extreme situations.
But he complains that regardless of his talents, he is ostracized from Ukraine’s scientific community. “They all look at me as if I am a clown. They clap their hands and that’s it,” he said despondently. “I get hundreds of calls from people daily who need my help. It’s hell because I have no conditions to help them.”
He said a Canadian scientific society invited him to Toronto to study in his own institute with as many students as he was ready to take on. The society discovered him through his published works and performances at international conferences. Canadians gave Slusarchuk the best deal among similar offers from the United States and Europe. His lawyers are currently studying the contract and he already has a residency permit, he said.
If Slusarchuk picks Canada over Ukraine, he will join an army of physicists, geneticists and engineers, among other top-flight talent, who started emigrating at the start of the 1990s. These are just the kind of people who build affluent societies. More than 300,000 scientists worked for the National Academy of Science before the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Within a decade, their number shrank roughtly to 100,000. At the same time, official statistics registered only some 50 doctors of science who were leaving Ukraine annually. Some analysts say the official numbers underestimate the harsher reality and that Ukraine lost a third of its scientific work force.
Slusarchuk is a professor at the Kyiv Medical Academy, where practicing doctors come for short post-graduate courses. He rarely shows up there because he mostly lives in Lviv, where he also works at two medical schools and receives patients. When he is in Kyiv, people eagerly queue in the hall to see him and seek his knowledge in cases when others give up.
Maria Lysyuk from Khmelnytsky in Western Ukraine said her son was in a coma for two weeks after a car accident. “Doctors said something like most of his brain was dead and that we could only pray,” she recalled. “But after professor Slusarchuk saw him, Sasha (Lysyuk’s son) started recovering on the fourth day.”
Instead of silence prescribed by other doctors in the clinic, Slusarchuk asked to play the young man’s favorite music and talk to him. Slusarchuk used alternative treatment methods that astounded fellow neurosurgeons in the clinic and that they later noted down for future use, said Lysyuk.
Slusarchuk is confident he can revolutionize science through his study of the brain – a revolution that he says is badly needed because the existing medical paradigm is out of date. “I have discovered new ways of working with depression, psychological traumas and dependency,” he says.
Slusarchuk teaches some of these skills to his followers in Lviv. He has students whose memories work like a Google search tool, recovering masses of information in seconds.
But even these impressive results are not enough to achieve their author’s recognition in Ukraine and overcome jealousy and bureaucracy. Slusarchuk wants to have his own research institute. “I am a step away from the Nobel Prize if Ukraine wanted it,” he said. Instead, he said, he gets doubts, dogma and unreasonable demands from the medical establishment.
Mykola Polischuk, chief neurosurgeon at the Kyiv Medical Academy, said that Slusarchuk has to start lecturing at the academy to prove his uniqueness and earn the ability to do independent research. “I want to see him do it because I am interested in his theories,” Polischuk said. Slusarchuk said that he has no time to lecture.
“I need a clinic where I can see my patients. Instead, I live in a dorm, get Hr 270 in wages and wake up thinking that my own country doesn’t need me.”
Ex-health minister Polischuk says Slusarchuk only has himself to blame. “I am not an oligarch who can give a lot of money and say do whatever you want. I told him – write a precise plan and we’ll see what we can do.”
Slusarchuk explained that authorities had previously offered him only a fraction of what he thinks is appropriate for his research. “They want to take my knowledge for $1,000 a month when abroad it will cost millions,” he exclaimed.
As the Kyiv Post was going into print, Slusarchuk said he was invited to see President Victor Yuschenko, a sign that Ukrainian authorities may have developed a sudden interest in his work. Rostyslav Valihnovsky from the president’s office said they were trying to convince Slusarchuk to stay, offering to take charge of Feofania, an elite hospital outside Kyiv. Slusarchuk has not made up his mind yet.
If he rejects the offer, the term “brain drain” would probably never be more appropriate than in his case.
Sluarchuk said he hasn't made up his mind about the Canadian offer. He said his first preference is to have his abilities recognized by his own people.
Source: Kyiv Post