He earned his medical degree from Albany Medical College in New York and trained in Houston. Ultimately, Dr. Makk landed in Louisville, Kentucky, where he worked as a greatly respected pathologist for over forty years. With strong determination and hard work, he overcame many obstacles and became a renowned doctor who contributed to the world's knowledge of cancer.
In addition to surviving hepatitis, a liver transplant, and open heart surgery himself; he saw his wife through a fourteen-year battle with breast cancer-relying on his personal medical knowledge to identify the best in cancer care. Four sons and nine grandchildren carry on the Makk legacy of hard work and a determined pursuit of happiness.
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A DOCTOR'S JOURNEYA Hungarian's Realization of the American Dream
By Laszlo Makk
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2010 Laszlo Makk
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Beginning
Isten áld meg a magyart. "God bless the Hungarians"
Hungary is a small country in Central Europe. In western Hungary, there is a Benedictine Archabbey named Pannonhalma. The first king of Hungary, St. Stephen, founded it in 996. Before King Stephen's reign, the Hungarians were nomads, pagans, and excellent horsemen. Their livelihood depended on raiding and robbing their prosperous western neighbors. During these raids, the best and bravest were usually killed, and King Stephen was concerned that the lame and hunchbacks, who were incapable of fighting, would consequently amass the future generations of his people. King Stephen noted the West European countries had wealth, agriculture, trades, and Christianity.
He converted his nation to Christianity in order to help his people settle down, learn agriculture and trades, and create a stable nation. He sent an emissary to Rome and requested a crown from the Pope so he could be king. He also requested some missionaries to convert the Hungarians to Christianity and to teach them various trades and agriculture.
The Pope sent Benedictine monks in 996, and King Stephen settled them in western Hungary on a hilltop called Pannonhalma located 65 miles west of Budapest. They built a monastery and established an archabbey. King Stephen gave the monks large land holdings and power. Eventually, a town was established in the foothills of Pannonhalma. Many of the townspeople made their living by working for the monastery or on its extensive land holdings. The town was called Gyorszentmárton, deriving its name from Saint Martin of Tours. According to legend, it was here that St. Martin, a Roman soldier at the time, gave half of his robe to a beggar.
My grandfather, Pàl Makk, was a stonemason like many Makks before him. He stepped on a rusty nail and suffered a horrible death from tetanus. He left a widow and four young children, one of which was Istvan Makk. The young widow decided not to let her children be taken away to an orphanage and kept the family together. They all had to go to work. Istvan had to drop out of the fourth-grade grammar school and go to work pulling weeds in the fields at age ten. In those days, the foreman was on horseback behind them with a long whip. The foreman whipped the one who was last in the weed-pulling row. Istvan learned from this that if he wanted to avoid getting whipped, he had to pull the weeds faster and work harder to stay near the front of the rows. Consequently, a hard work ethic stayed with him throughout his life.
A few years later, Istvan became a shoe and boot maker's apprentice. By the time he was twenty, he had become a master boot maker and had opened his own shop. He married Ilona Simon when she was 22 years old. A well-educated farmer's daughter, Ilona was a beauty from the next village. She walked two kilometers daily to and from the railroad station to take a two-hour roundtrip train ride to the nearby city to get a good education from a higher school. She was an avid reader, and as a deeply religious person, she raised us to be devout Catholics. This was the background of the Makk family when little Laszlo was born on April 16, 1932.
It had been a nice spring day in Gyorszentmárton, but it was not over yet. As the sun was setting and the noises of work slowly died down, the kerosene lamps were lit in the small houses to provide light for the evening meal.
The bell ringer for the church checked his pocket watch and briskly walked toward the bell tower to toll the bells at exactly eight o'clock to remind the villagers that it was time for the evening prayers and then bed. After the bells stopped ringing, the kerosene lamps were blown out one by one, and people turned in for the night. But this was not the case for the Makk family. Their kerosene lamps stayed on, and there was feverish activity in the house. Ilona Makk was about to give birth to her fifth child. Everyone prayed that the child would live. Of the Makks' previous four children, only one had survived. Finally, the child was born alive, and it was a boy. The baby was in this world for less than half an hour when a large green spider started to descend from the ceiling toward him. The parents, the midwife, and the others in the room all thanked God for a living son. They all felt the green spider was a sign of good luck and prayed and felt that great things would happen to the newborn son. That child was me. I was named Laszlo after King St. Laszlo, who chased the Tartars out of Hungary and saved Christianity for Europe. For this brave act, King Laszlo was canonized.
My childhood was quite exciting. My parents built a new two-story home, which unlike others was designed by an architect. To save money, my father would haul up the bricks, water, and mortar onto the scaffolding after work and at night so the bricklayers could start building first thing in the morning and not spend time gathering materials. My parents also raised pigs to help pay for the house. Everything my father did was high quality. His pigs were of such a high quality that a butcher from the city would purchase them and pick them up with a truck. This was a big sensation, because at that time, the only other truck that came to town was the Shell kerosene truck. The next big excitement for my family was moving into our new house, which had electricity and room for everything. When we moved in, the first thing my mother brought was a kitchen stool with a crucifix and bread and salt on it. That same crucifix hangs today in our home in Palm Beach, Florida.
The happiness in the new Makk home didn't last long. After Hitler's Nazi regime annexed Austria and occupied Czechoslovakia, Hungary was next on his agenda. It was just a matter of time before the Nazi monster would occupy little Hungary, who bravely decided to resist the Nazi steamroller and wanted to stay neutral. Our hometown was in the contemplated area of the frontier. One day, the town put out a declaration that everybody had to be prepared to evacuate with a 15-minute notice. The man of the house could no longer be expected to accompany his family, because he would be drafted into the defense force. No transportation aids would be available, either. The only thing evacuees could take was what they could carry themselves. I was supposed to carry a bag of sugar and a jug of water. My brother, Tibor, would carry the blankets, and my mother would carry my two little sisters, Zsuzsanna and Veronica. Of course, I couldn't understand why we would have to leave our beautiful new home. With tears in her eyes, my mother kept saying that it was all over, that my father would likely die defending our country, that our family would be homeless refugees on the run and most likely separated from each other. We didn't need monster movies. We had the real monster, Nazi Germany, ready to crush us.
The war with Germany never came. When Hitler found out about little Hungary's plan to resist, he invited the Regent of Hungary Miklós Horthy for a state visit. I still remember listening to the radio and hearing a band play as Horthy's train arrived in Berlin. Hitler played the gracious host. The Hungarian head of state explained that Hungary wanted to remain neutral and wanted no foreign troops of any kind on its soil. Hitler assured him that he understood. As he was leaving, the military band played again.
Shortly after Horthy's train left Berlin, it was switched to an abandoned railroad track. At the same time, German troops started to pour into Hungary, falsely claiming that they were coming based on a treaty with the Führer and Horthy. There was great confusion, and sporadic resistance was annihilated. The prime minister knew the truth about the German lies, but he was unable to take any action before the Germans had shot and killed him in his office. It was falsely reported that he had committed suicide. They put a Nazi puppet in his place. It took less than a day for the German Army to take over Hungary.
In my hometown, we did not know anything about this. The first thing we did notice was German motorized army units taking over the town. I also noticed that they had excellent motor vehicles. Some of the soldiers had black uniforms with "SS" on the collars. They were part of the infamous and greatly feared Schutzstaffel organization. I also noticed that when a Hungarian colonel came to inquire, the German soldiers did not salute him but ignored him. Military etiquette and civility was gone.
Chapter TwoSchools and World War II
I recall many things about my childhood. For example, while I was growing up, I was a skinny kid. My parents were very concerned, and our doctor told them I probably had tuberculosis and needed to eat a lot of spinach. I hated spinach. It made me gag, and I couldn't swallow it. Sometimes my mother stood behind me with a wooden spoon and hit me if I didn't eat the spinach soufflé that she had carefully prepared. Then the doctor told them I should drink Ovaltine, but I couldn't swallow that either. Eventually, I grew up and was healthy without needing any of these things.
I remember when it was time for me to go to kindergarten. The teacher was a strict nun. A strong disciplinarian, she walked around with a ruler and hit us in the head or fingers if we didn't do something right. Once I was an angel in a Christmas show we were having. During the show, we had to stay put and wait until the priest arrived; however, he was very late, and I needed to go to the bathroom badly. I asked the sister again and again to let me go, but she told me to hold it. Just as the priest arrived, I started to wet my angel costume and the floor. Sister told me that I had ruined the Christmas show, and she was never nice to me after that.
One day in the spring, the children at school played wolf and sheep. We were supposed to form a circle, but the circle was crooked, so the nun kept running around making us step forward and backward. As she was running around, the sister stepped on her habit, fell, and rolled over. We could see her long underwear. Nobody dared to move, but my friend Feri and I broke out into laughter. That was it. She dismissed the class—except for the two of us. As a penalty, she locked us in the classroom and told us we would be there all night when the witches and vampires would come to get us. We were scared to death and cried for a long time. After a while, we realized that if we put a chair on our little table and pushed it to the window, we could reach the latch, open it, and escape. Finally, we opened the window, and on the way out, we had to crawl through their tulip garden while the Sisters were eating lunch. We broke every tulip we could reach and ran home. I was scared all day of what would happen the next morning when I would have to go back to kindergarten, as I knew I would be severely punished.
During breakfast, I slipped out of the kitchen and hid behind the woodpiles in the basement. My mother kept looking and calling for me, but I stayed quiet. Then my mother sent for my father, because she thought the gypsies might have stolen me. Finally, I came out of hiding, crying, and told my parents what had happened. I also told them that I'd rather die than go back to kindergarten. My father said, "If you don't go, I will take you. You have to be responsible for what you have done."
My mother was more sympathetic and told my father, "He'll start school in September and will be in school for a long time. Why don't we just let him quit and enjoy the time off?"
My father relented, and I thought my mother had saved my life. It was a great spring and summer, not having to go to kindergarten. By the fall, I was ready to go to school, which I liked very much.
In Hungary, grammar school went up to the sixth grade. High school, known as gymnasium, lasted eight years. Most people in those days didn't go to gymnasium. A child could start gymnasium after he or she completed the fourth, fifth, or sixth grade of grammar school and passed an exam. I qualified after fourth grade. My parents and I desired that I attend the famous Benedictine Gymnasium at the top of the hill attached to the Archabbey of Pannonhalma, but it was not in the cards. My admission was denied even though I qualified. The principal told my father, "Mr. Makk, you already have a son in high school, and if the second boy is going to go to high school, who is going to make our shoes? Make him a shoemaker." I could tell my father was very sad about this response.
My father, who had never had a chance for education, wanted badly to educate us so that we would become "learned men" and wouldn't have to work as hard as he had to in order to make a living. The next high school was about fifteen miles away in the city of Györ. I was readily admitted there; however, to go there, I had to get up every morning at 5:45 to walk to the railroad station, which was about one kilometer away, catch the 6:30 train, and arrive in Györ by 7:30 a.m. After school, I caught the two o'clock train back and was home by 3:30 p.m. to get started on my homework. This was not easy in rain or snow, and I was just 10 years old at the time.
Hungary then entered World War II, and during school hours, we had to practice air raid evacuations to shelters. Located next to neighborhood houses, these shelters were ditches in the ground with logs and dirt on top. Because they were small, they could only accommodate a few people. We were assigned to different shelters and had to practice getting to them in a hurry.
As the war progressed, the air raids increased, because Györ was an important railroad center. Our gymnasium was taken over and converted into a military hospital, and we had to attend school in the evening from two to six o'clock at another school. This meant that I wouldn't get home until around 8 o'clock at night.
It was a heartbreaking experience to hear the screams of the wounded and dying soldiers as we walked by our old school. Our gym was even turned into a large morgue. This was not a conducive atmosphere for learning. Our train was often sidetracked and delayed because some of the rails had been bombed and damaged, and the German military trains had priority. This was an important route for the Germans to deliver supplies to the Russian front. Every time the Allies bombed the railroad, it was rebuilt quickly, because the German army and Hungarian railroad workers would work around the clock to make the repairs. When it was finished, the Allies just bombed it again. The Allies must have had good spies on the ground who would notify them when the railroad had been rebuilt.
The Allied air forces came to bomb the railroads in Györ on weekdays and hit their targets very well. The Soviets flew at night, and they had large flares. We called them Stalin's Christmas trees. They dropped their bombs randomly, more on civilian populations. After a while, we learned to go to air raid shelters at night and to stay home during the daytime raids. The Allies used the monastery at the top of the hill as their turning point for the bombing run to Györ. B-17s and B-24s flew in groups of 27 from Italy. After a while, we noted that smaller fighter planes accompanied the big bombers. My father and his friends figured out that the Allies must have been advancing closer, because the small fighters had shorter flying ranges. Sometimes we saw spectacular fights between the Allied and German Air Forces.
My father's back eventually became very troublesome, and he could barely walk. The doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong with him. My brother, who was seventeen then, was drafted into the army. Consequently, at age 12, I became the breadwinner for the family. I went to the farmers and traded bacon, lard, hams, flour, and schnapps for bed sheets, tablecloths, and wool. I traded the schnapps with the German guards for wool from their storage and took it back to the farmers for trade.
One morning in the summer of 1944, my father came home, closed every window, and turned on the radio. The newscaster on Radio Bari, an Allied station in Italy, told us that the invasion of Western Europe had begun that morning in France. My father said that the Germans wouldn't last much longer and that we should not show any signs of joy, because it could cost us dearly, especially if seen by the ever-watching Nazis.
Excerpted from A DOCTOR'S JOURNEY by Laszlo Makk Copyright © 2010 by Laszlo Makk. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsI. The Beginning....................1
II. Schools and World War II....................5
III. Teen Years, Soviet Occupation, and Imposition of Communist Dictatorship....................13
IV. Oppressive Hungarian Dictatorship....................19
V. College Years and Coping with the Red Dictator....................23
VI. New Adventures and the Slipping Red Dictators....................29
IX. First Steps in the Free World....................49
X. America-First Steps....................55
XI. Albany Medical College....................67
XII. Planning for the Future....................77
XIII. Graduation and America the Beautiful....................85
XIV. Internship Year....................91
XV. The Making of a Surgeon....................103
XVI. The Making of a Pathologist....................137
XVII. St. Anthony's Hospital and Kentucky....................151
XVIII. Storm Clouds in Paradise....................159
XIX. A New Discovery....................169
XX. New Horizons and Declines....................173
XXI. Health Crisis....................177
XXII. Another Health Crisis....................193
XXIII. The End of St. Anthony's....................201
XXIV. The Vencor Year....................207
XXV. Carolyn's Cancer and Retirement....................213
XXVI. The Final Challenge....................221
XXVII. The Family....................225
XXVIII. Appendix I: Awards....................231
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This man has led an amazing life. His unbelievable life in Hungary during WWII and determination to become a physician is a story that is very inspiring. His quest to become a doctor began at the young age of 6. He was shot at when defecting Hungary to Austria. He seemed to meet the right people along his journey to help him to America and eventually medical school and American citizenship. The book is a "quick read" as the story line of his life is nearly unbelievable (with difficulty putting the book down). It is wonderful to have a book that preserves the life stories of this incredible man.