Heinz Gregor Wieser

1943 - 2018

On February 20, 2018, Heinz Gregor Wieser passed away in his home (the former residence of his parents) as the result of a severe illness. Today, the epilepsy community keenly feels the loss of one of its own leading figures who achieved fame within the field of epilepsy surgery.

In 1943, Heinz Gregor was born in West Prussia (today Poland). After feeling the devastating effects of the Second World War, both he and his parents journeyed to their new chosen homeland: Austria. Although he resided in several countries abroad and spent most of his professional life in Switzerland, his heart always remained true to Austria and he remained deeply connected and committed to this region throughout his lifetime.

Heinz Gregor Wieser began his career with Professor Rudolf Hess, who was then the Director of the EEG Unit at the Neurology Department of the University Hospital of Zürich in Switzerland. Due largely to the education Heinz Gregor received in France, both he and his colleagues developed one of the first systematic epilepsy programs in Europe. While there, it was his great fortune to work with the neurosurgeon Professor Dr. Gazi Yaşargil, who is considered one of the founders of modern neurosurgery. When operating on patients, Gazi Yaşargil was a true perfectionist and performed a large series of selective amygdalohippocampectomies. This enabled scientific research on a systematic level concerning seizure freedom and memory outcome. The transsylvian approach used was cultivated by both Wieser and Yarşargil and was thought to result in fewer post-operative memory deficits than the classical two-thirds resection which was the traditional standard-of-care at that time. After the details from the large series of selective amydalohippocampectomies were published, this procedure then went on to become the new gold standard in epilepsy surgery for mesial temporal lobe epilepsy, at least in Europe. The Electrophysiology Department in Zürich became an internationally-renowned epilepsy centre as a result of the clinical and scientific work performed there.

Heinz Gregor’s early involvement in Neuropsychology contributed towards our increased knowledge of human memory. Since he was educated in the French tradition of multiple depth electrodes, he also provided insight regarding the spread of seizure activity from the hippocampus. He was an involved educator who had an open-door policy and was always more than willing to share his knowledge and expertise. Many epileptologists and epilepsy scientists consider it a privilege to have served and studied under him.

His career at the Department of Epileptology in Zürich culminated when he was granted the position of Professor Ordinarius ad personam for Neurology (2001). In 2008, he became Professor Emeritus at the Medical Faculty in Zürich, but even then he was not content to rest on his laurels and continued on with his scientific and clinical career. He commuted between his home in Austria and Zürich while continuously publishing papers and contributing to the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE).

Within the field of epilepsy surgery, Heinz Gregor Wieser is one of the world’s leading protagonists. This title was not earned solely because of his clinical and scientific knowledge, but also due to his personality. For those colleagues with whom he collaborated, he generously gave his time and attention, and granted his support wherever and whenever needed. He was indeed a workaholic, but in the most positive sense of the word and he considered no undertaking too great. His connections within the epileptology community were widespread and intense.

Heinz Gregor Weiser’s absence will be surely felt, but we can take comfort knowing that his scientific and clinical legacy will reverberate and inspire the next generation of epileptologists. As a close personal friend, I will miss him and our intense communication on various subjects, his stimulating enthusiasm, and his “Austrian” kindness towards patients and colleagues.

Contributed by Christian Elger