I was born in the city of Menen at the border of Belgium and France, somewhat fitting since my mother was born in France and my father in Belgium. From my mother I got the tenacity to attack any problem. From my father I got a sensitivity to problems of the human condition.
Family gatherings were held in the dialects of both countries, a mixture of Flemish and ‘le patois du Nord’ (French of the Lille region). That may have kindled my interest in languages, which subsequently evolved in the boarding school where I became a teacher. Today I speak fluent Flemish (officially ‘Dutch’), English, French and German, moderate Spanish and I have a working knowledge of Italian.
During my late teens, I wrote short stories and became seriously involved with a group of progressive writers in the region of Bruges. I even won second place in the competition for the Literary Price for Young writers of the Netherlands (the Flemish part of Belgium and Holland). My first serious ambition was to become a writer and during that pursuit, I managed to publish a few stories in “Proces Verbaal”, a literary magazine. I had good connections to Johan Sonneville, who founded the publishing company “De Galge”, but at the time, I was also a fulltime teacher in primary and junior high school. That not only interfered with my writing but also put out of the question my getting anything published. Also, during weekends and vacation periods, I performed as a gymnast with the Art Group Thor throughout Belgium and in various European countries.
Working and studying
Three years after becoming a teacher, I married Annie Rooryck and settled in Torhout, the city where I taught. Life was good, but equally unpredictable and during my life I never got anything for nothing. After five years of teaching, I decided to change gears. Since my dream to become a doctor was too far a reach, my adviser at school suggested getting a psychology degree. However, he also added that my combining fulltime teaching with studying for a university degree would take too long and was probably an unattainable goal. Of course, I had to prove him wrong.
He was nevertheless correct, as it became extremely challenging to both teach and study. In addition, I could only attend a few courses at the University of Ghent. My fellow students, who had no idea of my situation, thought I was a bon vivant, flirting around and hardly attending classes. Some professors thought the same and made my oral exams a trial by ordeal. However, of the 236 students attending the first year, only 65 passed the first round of exams and I was one of them. That gave me an enormous boost to persevere.
College degree and beoming a neuroscientist
On top of my studying, Annie and I went through the hassle of building a house, although far more important was the birth of our daughter Inge. We delighted in our little girl, who from the very beginning knew exactly what she wanted.
Three and a half years later, after sleeping only a few hours each night and losing all our friends (“Albert has to study”), I earned my master’s degree in experimental psychology. Janssen Pharmaceutica, a Johnson& Johnson Company in Belgium, offered me a contract as a researcher. From then on, my writing became confined to scientific publications. Six years later, I was awarded a Ph.D. in pharmacology from the University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands. The Department of Neuropharmacology, which I created, became quite successful, attracting scientists from countries like, Germany, Poland France, Portugal, Japan and the US. During that time, I also organized international symposia and workshops on brain stimulation reward, brain hypoxia and ischemia, migraine, epilepsy and sleep.
Important people and becoming a professor
I would like to acknowledge a few of the people who became very important in my career life.
Dr. Paul Janssen, Company Director, gave me the opportunity to develop my scientific career and run my department as if it were my own company.
Dr. Guus Declerck was the Director of the Neurophysiology Department at the Epilepsy Center Kempenhaeghe, in Heeze, The Netherlands where I was a department consultant. He became an excellent mentor. From him I learned the ins and outs of clinical neurophysiology and I could reap the rewards of that knowledge for the rest of my life. From the very beginning a friendship developed and lasted up to today.
Professor Harvey L. Edmonds from the University of Louisville in Kentucky spent his best scientific year ever in my lab, studying brain ischemia-hypoxia and learning neurophysiology. Particularly when we were actively working together, a synergy was created -- together we were greater than the sum of the parts. It was also a hell of a lot of fun. Our collaborations resulted in a friendship, which led to an Adjunct professorship in the Anesthesiology Department at the University of Louisville Kentucky. About the same time I received an Adjunct Professorship in the Department of Anesthesiology, at the University of Utah in Salt Lake city, due to the Chairman Dr. K.C. Wong. This all gave me the opportunity to learn from academic research and clinical work.
After 18 years in the pharmaceutical company, Professor Hilbert Kamphuisen nominated me as a candidate for the Boerhaave Chair of the Medical Faculty at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. There I became a full and true professor in neurophysiology, studying aging and sleep. He too became a dear friend, from whom I learned that sciences and living a socially rewarding life are not mutually exclusive.
Just a year and one-half later, Dr. Richard Homan, Chair of the newly established Neurology Department at the Medical College of Ohio, invited me to join his department, because of my experience and recognition in the field of neurophysiology and neurology. Annie and I immigrated to the US and, strongly supported at the beginning by Dr. Homan’s wife Katherine, we had a wonderful and challenging life. Years later I even joined Dr. Homan when he moved to chair the Neurology Department at Texas Tech University. During the interim, I became Board Certified in Sleep Medicine and worked as a clinician at the aforementioned universities as well as in private sleep disorders clinics, until I retired at the end of 2003.
The most important people and writing
In January 2004, Annie and I returned to Belgium and six weeks thereafter moved to the region of Málaga in Andalusia, Spain. Our contacts with the US endure, in particular because our daughter Inge lives there with our son-in-law Scott and grandson Oliver in whom I recognize a few interesting traits.
A few years ago, I explained to Oliver, who had just turned six years, what a memory stick was and how to transfer pictures into a computer. During a dinner, when we expressed our surprise at his incredible memory, he laughed and said “I have a memory stick in my brain!” Of course, a proud grandfather is speaking, hoping to see him grow into an intelligent and foremost a good human being.
Now that I am retired I can look back at a fulfilling life and savor the fruits of learning many things. Annie and I enjoy life with friends and family and amongst many activities, I devote my time to my former passions, especially writing fiction.