Home » blogging » A Simple Country Doctor-An International Hero

A Simple Country Doctor-An International Hero

In 1981, I met the smartest man I’ve ever known.

His name was Dr. Bohdan Hordinsky, and for most of the time I knew him, I only knew him as a small-town, country doc, who had a thick accent, and a brain full of knowledge.  I didn’t really learn about him until 1991, when they had Doc’s 80th birthday.  By then he was “semi-retired”, which means he worked most mornings, and took afternoons off, except when someone called and needed to see him, or he was bored, or because he simply wanted to go back to work.

Because to Doc Hordinsky, working was life.  And serving others was his mission and joy.  He was a true hero, around the world.  And most people have never heard of him.

But those that met him once, never ever forgot him.

Doc was born in 1911 in the Western Ukraine to an aristocratic, intellectual family of scientists and artists.  The Hordinsky family has always held scholarly pursuits in high esteem, something that was passed on from his parents, and that he, in turn, passed on to his children.  This was to be true throughout his life, and he passed this on to everyone he met.

Doc survived many things with his family, including being in occupied countries during World War II.  He graduated from Medical School in Lviv, Ukraine in 1935, even having as one of his teachers – the father of psychiatry – Sigmund Freud, who Doc claims taught him how to listen.  He recalled “Freud told us, ‘Take as much time as you need with each patient.  Don’t look at your watch, but if you have to, take his pulse – and then look.'”

Dr. Hordinsky was, at various times, the physician to some very prominent people in the Ukraine.  Including during World War II.  I personally was told by Doc that he was Josef Stalin’s personal physician for a while.  He also told me that he used to watch another famous man walk to work every day, before he became famous.  This man was Adolf Hitler.  I asked him once about that, and whether he was ever tempted to “not” take care of those men, especially after learning what those men were doing in his country.  But he was a dedicated man, and his Hippocratic Oath was his life’s motto.  First do no harm.

As WWII raged around him, Doc provided what aid he could to Jews that were being shunned, then persecuted.  He treated their medical needs when others were being executed for simply providing them with food.  When the Jews were in hiding, and someone would die, Doc would quietly sneak the bodies out, piece by piece, in his doctor’s bag, so that they would not be found by the Germans.

He was also pursued by the Germans, who wanted him to serve in the SS as their doctor, because he was considered the “Perfect Aryan”.  Doc, however was “always too sick”.  He would fake high blood pressure with caffeine shots, and sugar injections to emulate the onset of diabetes.

When Doc finally escaped the war with his family, including his wife, Irene and children, Jerry and Walter, he came to the United States, searching for the chance for his children to learn and grow in an environment of freedom.  His daughter Maria was born some years later, in the same year he opened his office in my hometown.

Once, I was given a chance to ask him some questions for a research paper, and he told me about coming to the United States, and his welcome, and his reason for moving his family to North Dakota.  He told me “When we came to the States, I applied to many hospitals, and they all told me that they didn’t want a German doctor, because people were bitter about the war.  When we were offered a home, and practically begged by the community to come to North Dakota, which was so much like our beloved Ukraine, we jumped at the chance.  We have never regretted our decision.  And when those large-city hospitals came back to me, years later, and begged me to come to them, because of my reputation, I told them ‘You didn’t want me when I first got here because of my heritage, and now I don’t want you because of the same reason.’  Even though we were Ukrainian, not German, it didn’t matter.  I was welcomed with my family into this community with open and grateful arms, and I could not turn my back on those people.”

Doc did many things that gained him world-wide renown, including helping to develop medication to dissolve gallstones, which was later discovered to also lower cholesterol.  He specialized in skin diseases and allergies.  He had remarkable success with a medicine to control asthma.  But he was always certain that the real key was the patients.

In 1987 a newspaper in Fargo quoted him as saying “You can trust machines too much; of course, machines are good, but they make mistakes… some physicians rely so much on sophisticated equipment that they forget to listen to the patient.”

Doc and Irene Hordinsky

In 1991, my hometown held something called “Doctor Hordinsky Days”.  It was a celebration of their most-famous and most-humble physician.  A map of the globe was placed on a stand, and everyone that came put a pin in the map for where they came from.  There were pins in that map from all over the world, including Japan.

Doc and his wife, Irene, also traveled back to their beloved Ukraine on a regular basis, taking supplies like shoes and other things that we take for granted back with them.  They would even buy a car, have it stripped of the valuable things, like the stereo (because they would be stolen and sold on the black market), and they would give these things away when they got there.

For the whole time I knew the Doc, he always prized education above all. 

Doc never charged the teachers that came to see him, or their families.  He wanted them to spend their money on other things, not on him.  He knew that small-town teachers don’t get paid much, and he wanted to give back to his community as much as he could. 

I always swore that Doc had a photographic memory.  He had a wall in his office that was full of nothing but medical books and magazines.  If you had a question, he would go to exactly the magazine or book he wanted, flip to the page, and point out exactly the answer. 

He was an amazing man, a true hero to all the people that met him, and is greatly missed by the community.  He diagnosed EldestDaughter’s allergy to milk, when we couldn’t figure out what was making her sick all the time.  His advice?  “One serving of milk a day, and no more.  She will grow out of it, given time.”  He was right.

Doc Hordinsky was a simple country doctor.

Doctor Bohdan Z. Hordinsky was an International Hero.

He was a man who loved his family, his community, and his work.  In that order.

P.S. I forgot to add earlier, that much of the information for this post, other than personal quotes he told me himself, came from the Doctor Hordinsky Cookbook that was created and published by my hometown, in honor of the Doc, for the celebration in 1991.

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54 thoughts on “A Simple Country Doctor-An International Hero

    • Thanks, my friend. He was an amazing man, and I wish he was still here. But his memory and legacy lives on every time someone remembers him.

  1. I would let this doctor treat my rabies if I was in North Dakota or if he was still practicing or still alive or whatever. One day I want to go to the Dakotas. It’s like Narnia to me. I never really thought it existed except in books and movies.

  2. What an incredible man he must have been to make such a impact upon you and it would have been an honor to meet him. You are my friend, I indeed follow your writing and you are good. But I have to say this, Brea…this is one of the finest pieces I have read. Not that your other work isn’t wonderful. Yes, yes… I know you don’t like compliments as such, but too bad my friend, you are getting the praise from me. I could FEEL how YOU FELT while writing this. Thank you.
    XOXXO

    • Just re-read the post today, and actually teared up. Frickin’ stupid, considering I wrote the stupid thing, but he was an honesty GOOD man. And I miss him. My mom still helps his widow and his son, Walter, who are both elderly now, and Walter is slightly developmentally disabled due to malnutrition suffered from their time stuck in the Ukraine during WWII. Irene is a lovely woman who devotes what time and resources she has to her favorite charities, libraries especially.

  3. Hello Brea,
    I was wondering if you might know of any way I might be able to get one of those cookbooks. A friend of mine lost hers that was handed down to her in the flood here in Minot a few weeks back. Sentimental to be certain, but she was from Drake, ND and it would mean a lot to her to have one. Thanks for any information you might have!

    • I’m very sorry, but there aren’t anymore of the cookbooks available. The original cookbook files on one of the city’s computers ended up getting corrupted, and were lost. I’ve had a few requests over the years for one of these, but they simply don’t exist anymore. I have one that was given to me when they originally came out, and I treasure it. If your friend would really like a “copy”, I could scan mine into the computer, and send it to her. You can email me at brea9@min.midco.net if you would like me to send it on.

  4. what a blessing to find this web site, I had the great pleasure to meet this brilliant humble man who was truly a servant to all who came to him, way back about the time of this story, and was overjoyed just last year to find one of his recipe books in a second hand book store here in Billings, Mt. my Brother, Gordon in ND told me he had read of this doctor in an REA magazine, at the time I was visiting my brother and had a serious health challenge that the docs here in Mt. didn’t have a clue for, This wonderful man immediately saw the problem with my skin , and ran a test of confirmation , he followed up with a letter confirming his diagnosis, that one or more organs in my body were not functioning and poison was coming out through my skin, turned out in his report, my liver had quit functioning , he saved my life. I had at that time a-topical dermatitis, which he immediately knew, and gave me a brochure on it , I followed up at home with alternative health and praise the Lord for His provisions, I have enjoyed wonderful health through these years. God’s creation of our body is truly awesome in how our body can regenerate itself and heal itself , I will ever be grateful to this wonderful man
    and give thanks daily to our Holy God for His provisions for our good health and the
    godly servants of this world who desire nothing more than to serve to the very best of their ability. I pray that dear doctor Hordinsky has many stars in his crown as he walks the streets of gold in God’s great kingdom , where Jesus has gone before us to prepare a place for each of us who trust in Him .

    • He truly was one of a kind, & I was privileged to know him.

      My mom actually worked for him at the clinic for the last few years he was with us, & she still is close with his wife & children. It was an honor to have him in our lives, & I know that he truly loved his whole life.

      Thank you so much for the comment, & for the visit!

  5. I remember Doc well, I saw him many times growing up, his crab apple tree had the best apples in town, a great man he was and humble till the end, one of God’s truly great souls, RIP Doc.

    • Hey, Scott! 🙂 Yes, Doc was a truly great man. I was only privileged to know him for those years after Mom & Dad moved us to ND, but I have always thought of him as the smartest human being I’ve ever met.

      I hope you’re doing well!
      Sincerely,
      (The plumber’s daughter)

  6. Best doctor…ever! I knew him my entire life and he and Irene were great friends of my grandparents..they loved to speak Ukrainian to each other. I have the cookbook too. 🙂

    • LOL, seems to be “old home day!” But that’s great! 🙂 My copy of the cookbook is so worn, I think I’m going to have to scan in the pages (filthy as they are), so that I can reprint them as I need them! I actually got to help Mom & Dad with the creation of the cookbook. (They needed extra typing-fingers, and I was free labor) I’ve even had people who read this, ask me if they could get new copies of the book. Sad to say, there was only ever the 1 printing, so whatever books still exist, are all there will ever be. I even had someone in Montana tell me that they found a copy laying on someone’s garage-sale table, and they snatched it up, knowing exactl what it was! 🙂

      Mom still helps Irene & Walter as much as possible, driving them places, etc. I just wish that my kids could’ve all gotten to know Doc, too.

      Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  7. indeed he was a good man years ago he diagnosed a skin condition on my son when three other doc’s didn’t have a clue
    He was kind and funny and didn’t forget a thing. He was a blessing to many many peoople and his patients loved him

    • Eleanore, I truly believe that Doc was one of those rare souls that is born, like Einstein, Mozart, DaVinci, who are simply “more” than others. They are blessed with a truly outrageous gift right from birth. And Doc used his gift brilliantly, freely, and right down to his last breath. There will never be another like him.

      Thanks for the visit! 🙂

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    • I miss him very much, and am gratified that so many people remember him as fondly as our whole town does. Thanks for the nice comment!

  9. I remember the dr. very well, went to school with his sons in the 50’s. He had a very up to date office on main street.I remember his daughter sleeping in her carriage on the screen porch year around. He believed in fresh air.

  10. I only had one experience with Dr. Hordinsky. I had been doctoring, for over a year, with what I was told was a cyst in my hip. My parents suggested I try Dr. Hordinsky. In ten minutes he was able to make the correct diagnosis, of a ruptured disc. I was always amazed that several doctors couldn’t make the correct diagnosis with lots of tests and xrays. But it only took Dr. Hordinsky 10 minutes, by just listening to what the symptoms were!

    • Doc diagnosed my daughter’s milk allergy after just the same, listening to symptoms. I’ve not met anyone as brilliant since him. He would listen, maybe check your skin & fingernails, and go to his wall of books & magazines, pull down the one he wanted, show you what you had. The man was phenomenal.

  11. About 20 years ago he diagnosed a skin problem for my mother. He had done a biopsy and then sent her a letter written in long hand by himself! He did not have someone send her a typed letter! Our family drove 30 miles to see him when our town’s doctor didn’t have an answer. He was respected by people for many miles around Drake.

  12. Wonderful article. I never had the pleasure of meeting the good Dr. but my mother was treated by him for a skin ailment. Agree totally that he was in the same class as Einstein, Mozart etc. Wish I could recieve the cookbook too! Thank you for sharing your memories of this truely remarkable man. Susan

  13. This Dr. Was so amazing. He was our family Dr. for us if we couldn’t get to Rugby. DR. HORDINSKY was so respected and loved. I can still visualize him in the clinic. My Mom and Dad sure believed in him. I would love to get a copy of his cookbook if at all possible please. Even if it was emailed to me. Thank you for this wonderful story. I had no idea of his past history. What a Legend he is.

  14. He was our family Dr. for years. In fact, he would make house calls to see my Grandfather. Usually it would be on a Sunday morning when he was on his way to make rounds at the Harveyt Hospital.

  15. This wonderful man was our family physician my entire growing up life near Blumenfeld and then Karlsruhe. My Dad never quit talking about Dr Hordinsky up until the day he died. Dad loved him. I remember when the family arrived and they first opened the office on Main. Dad talked about what a gifted Dr this man was and that the USA did not give him any credit for all his work in the old country. Dad said that he had been or trained to be a surgeon until he arrived here and the US did not allow him to do surgery here. Don’t know if that’s accurate or not. Thank you for this lovely tribute to our country Doctor.

  16. Dr. Hordinsky was a God sent for our family twice. I had eczema all over my hands and no doctor was able to really ease my pain and discomfort until this man took a look. I had two different creams to put on and several weeks later my eczema was gone! Our daughter was two when our family doctor in Minot said she had cancer in her bones. We took her to Drake the next day and Dr. Hordinsky did not have any means to take X-Rays but did take blood work and immed. said she did not have cancer. He arranged for us to take her to a bone spec. in Minot and discovered it was nothing of the kind, and she would out grow this and she did in several months. We loved this very special doctor, when no one knew what to do, we were off to Drake. Yes he’s did have old books in his office and any questions we had he would pull out a book and show us exactly what he said it was.

  17. Yes, he was my husband’s DR for a skin problem. He was very good and prescribed an ointment/salve to use on his rash. My husband couldn’t say enough good about him and how knowledgeable he was.

  18. This amazing man was my father’s doctor 60 years ago. My grandparents lived in Drake and when the Mayo Clinic sent my father home saying there was nothing more to be done for him, he met with Dr. Horsinsky at their urging… and his hesitation. He was from the city of Philadelphia and as well, if the Mayo Clinic couldn’t help him what were the odds of a county doctor?! With no place to turn , He met with Doctor Hordinsky who almost immediatly made a diagnosis and told my father he had 10 years to live if he followed the recommended care. My father was ill throughout those years, but with the help of Dr. Hordinsky he lived 9 years and 8 months of the projected 10 years. Pretty damn on the mark! I was a little girl of 5 so he gave me additional years in which to generate memories of my father that I would not have had otherwise. He became our family doctor though we lived in Minot. My father would let no one else touch us! I remember him exactly as you describe him in your article. My mother is now 91. I will read this to her. She will be fascinated and surely take a walk down this bittersweet memory lane. We were forever greatful to this dear, caring man. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story/memory .

    • Donna, I’m so glad that Doc was able to help you get those extra years with your dad. There have been many times during the last 20 years, that I wished Doc was still around. My mom keeps in touch with his wife, Irene, they’ve been good friends for years, and Irene celebrated her 100th birthday last year!

  19. Jen, your tribute to the Doc is very well written. It left me wishing that I had known the man. I thought your article was something that was written back when people knew how to write correctly. Very well done. I’m curious to know if you are a young writer, middle-aged, or older writer.
    Regarding the cookbook; there seem to be quite a few people who would like a copy. Maybe you could scan it and have it available as an E book that people could download and print off themselves if they wanted to. I am somewhat technologically challenged and have no clue how you would do that, but perhaps you do.

    • Pam, I am middle-aged. 45 tomorrow, actually, but I’ve been writing since I was a kid.

      Regarding the cookbook, I wish I could just upload it as a free pdf, but the original book was put out by the Drake City Council to raise funds, so I’d have to go to them to find out what I can & can’t do. There was only 1 printing of the book, as the computer system ended up corrupted during the process…it was a mess! I helped get some of the recipes retyped, it took quite a while. (My dad used to be the mayor, so I got wrestled into helping )

  20. Oops!! After reading so many comments, I lost track of who actually wrote the article and was thrown off by Jen having the same icon. Maybe My apologies to both Jen and Brea. The comment is for Brea.

    • LOL, it’s alright, Pam. I am both, Brea & Jen. When I started writing the blog, my kids were young, so I wrote under a nom de plume. Now that they’re almost all grown, they don’t care about anonymity so much anymore, so I switched to my real name, Jen. I left the name of the blog the same, so I didn’t mess up some who’ve been hanging out reading here since I started in ’09.

      So you got it right both ways! Thanks for stopping by!

  21. I remember Doc well when we grew up in Drake and up until the time we moved away .He truly was a great man

  22. He was an amazing doctor! I grew up in Drake, ND being treated by him for many ailments. His wife was also the sweetest lady. She brought gifts for each of my sons when they were born & we still have them and consider them to be keepsakes. There are so many stories to be shared about this family! It would take hours to listen to all of them. I have the cookbook and use it daily. I have gifted copies to special people in my life who use it and enjoy it as much as I do 🙂

    • Hi, Sheila. Yes, Doc & Irene were both very special to many people. My mom & Irene are still good friends, & spend time together when Mom can get to the Cities. Thanks for stopping by, & for the nice words! 🙂

  23. He was a wonderful Dr. took his time explaining everything. He mentioned to me about his sister being blind. His family decided to have her play the piano and she became a very famous concert pianist. Would love to read more about their family history.

  24. After being treated by a dr. in Minot and getting no results/relief, my dad took me to see Dr. Hordinsky. One look at my palms and he said, “wrong ting”, meaning they were using the wrong ointment. I was better the next day with his application of medicine. I admired him so much! He had a marvelous memory and was full of good stories!!

    • His diagnostic skills coupled with his near-perfect memory were fantastic. Most often, he could just look at you, check your skin, nails, eyes, & know exactly what was wrong. 🙂

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  26. Dr. Hordinsky was my family doctor when I was a little kid–starting with diagnosing my allergy to milk as a baby. I couldn’t understand why my parents would drive us to this little town to see this doctor with the thick accent until I was older. He always remembered the details of my little ailments, examining my skin and nails and then getting his medical books off the shelf and showing me the exact condition and treatment. He charged some ridiculous fee like $5 per person for the visit. Wonderful memories.

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