Featured obituary: Jan Nemec / Noted cardiologist, educator specialized in heart disorders

To Jan Nemec, principles weren’t vague guidelines to follow when it was expedient to do so. They weren’t trite expressions meant to be massaged or compromised when the going got tough. To him, they were everything.

The cardiologist, researcher and educator at UPMC devoted his life to curing disease, doting on his children and making life better for those less fortunate.

And Dr. Nemec understood misfortune.

After spending the first half of his life in a communist country, Dr. Nemec built what most would consider a successful life, admired by his colleagues and patients and an expert in complicated heart procedures.

But, even in the face of this happy and accomplished existence, Dr. Nemec refused to submit to what he saw as oppression and took his own life at his Swissvale home on May 8. He was 54.

Dr. Nemec’s daughter, Katerina Nemcova, 25, a psychologist from Sydney, Australia, said her father wasn’t depressed, but chose to end his life rather than pay nearly half of his annual income for spousal support as he was ordered to do in a recent divorce order.

“Freedom and liberty were all very important to him. He didn’t want to conform to the norm,” Ms. Nemcova said. “He’d been planning this for at least three years — we now know this.”

What courts in Minnesota — where her mother filed for divorce four years ago — saw as fairness, he saw as injustice that he could not tolerate, said Ms. Nemcova, who received an email from her father on the day after he died, detailing his heartbreaking decision.

“He was always very, very anti-communist. This was definitely about his moral principles,” Ms. Nemcova said. “He thought this was a poorly designed system and just didn’t want to be a part of it and would rather give the money to a worthy cause.”

Her father waited until his divorce was finalized for exactly 30 days and left the majority of his estate to the organization Doctors Without Borders, which he supported with his time and money for many years, she said.

In the final missive to his daughter, Dr. Nemec said: “I wish I had the opportunity to quit my job and be a gardener in Costa Rica, but I can’t do that because I would go to jail and that’s terrifying.”

Dr. Nemec was born and raised in Prague, in what was then communist Czechoslovakia, a totalitarian regime under Soviet rule from 1948 to 1989. He obtained his medical degree from the Charles University School of Medicine in the Czech Republic.

Dr. Nemec emigrated to the U.S. in 1993 as a fellow in cardiology and electrophysiology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

He was recruited by UPMC in 2006, and moved to Swissvale to work as an academic, researcher and physician in the subspecialty of electrophysiology in cardiology.

Much of his research focused on inherited disorders of the heart, rhythm and channel mutations.

Dr. Nemec often did complex procedures, said colleague Joon Lee, chief of cardiology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

“He was functioning at a very high level, doing procedures which required a great deal of discipline, concentration and intellect,” said Dr. Lee, who knew Dr. Nemec for 11 years.

Dr. Nemec also served as an associate professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute. He was recognized as the top educator by trainees at the medical school in 2007 with the Edward I. Curtiss Memorial Teaching Award.

Dr. Lee said he and his colleagues had no inkling of Dr. Nemec’s deep distress.

“It’s safe to say none of us within the department saw anything coming,” Dr. Lee said.

Dr. Nemec’s loss will be felt beyond the local medical community, Dr. Lee said.

“It’s clear that he was an outstanding and internationally known cardiologist and he was certainly beloved and respected by our whole department,” Dr. Lee said. “It’s a tremendous loss to us, but it’s also a tremendous loss to the field.”

Ms. Nemcova said that although she understood her father’s decision, it was devastating for her.

“I lost the person who was the closest to me, but I respect his choice,” said Ms. Nemcova, who took her father hiking on Kangaroo Island off the south Australian coast during a visit in January.

“He was full of life, and one of the happiest people I knew. He was brilliant and kind and very, very generous.”

Along with his daughter, Dr. Nemec is survived by a son, Jakub Nemec, 27, of Minneapolis, and his mother, Dr. Marcela Nemcova of Prague, in the Czech Republic.

Services for Dr. Nemec were held Monday. The family requests that donations be made to Doctors Without Borders. Arrangements were by John A. Freyvogel Sons Funeral Home, Shadyside.

Janice Crompton: jcrompton@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1159 or on Twitter @janicecrompton.

Found on: http://www.post-gazette.com/news/obituaries/2017/05/19/Obituary-Jan-Nemec-Noted-cardiologist-educator-specialized-in-heart-disorders/stories/20170517002