In the spotlight

Interview with Dr Jan Blatny, EAHAD 2019 Congress President

Dr Jan Blatny is not only a member of the EAHAD Executive Committee, but also the President of the EAHAD 2019 Congress in Prague, taking place from 6 to 8 February 2019. In the lead up to the Prague meeting, we had the opportunity to talk with Dr Blatny. We asked him among other things to shed some light on his background, the highlights and challenges associated with his work as Congress President, as well as his perspective on the future of haemophilia and allied disorders in Europe.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
I was born in Czechoslovakia, but apart from Czech, there is also some Polish and German “blood” circulating in my vessels. Perhaps, this is quite typical for my country. Being in the heart of Europe for ages, many other nations, many historical events, and virtually all the good and bad moments of European history left their trace on the country. This year is particularly important for us, as 100 years ago, in 1918, the first democratic independent state of Czechs and Slovaks – the Czechoslovak Republic – was founded.


The life motto of our first president and philosopher, T.G. Masaryk was “Do not fear and do not steal”. He also believed, that “Truth prevails” as is stated on the Czech presidents’ flag. The last Czechoslovak and first Czech president, Vaclav Havel, who in many ways continued what Mr. Masaryk started, took this idea even further, believing that “Truth and love prevail over lies and hate”. I believe these ideas are still important. I feel committed to them and both these great men serve as moral compasses and examples for me.


As for my professional background, most of professional life I spent working for the Children’s University Hospital affiliated to Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic, with my main research and clinical interests being in haemophilia and allied disorders, life-threatening bleeding, and thrombosis. I also have close links to Bristol UK and I have to mention the several years I spent in Dublin, working for CUH Temple Street, OLCH Crumlin, and Rotunda. Those were great years and I have a lot of friends in Ireland and the UK. In fact, Ireland became so close to my heart, that I consider it as my second home-country.


What was the first EAHAD Congress you attended and what attracted you to it?
My first EAHAD congress was in Edinburgh in 2010. What attracted me at that time still remains the same and is what makes EAHAD congresses unique: they are the place where science meets clinical practice in a very comprehensive, but friendly, collegial, and creative atmosphere. When I leave another successful EAHAD Congress, in my mind I do thank the founders of EAHAD that they brought their idea to life.


What is different now that you are the EAHAD Congress President?
The main difference is that I feel very honored that my country was given the privilege to host an EAHAD Congress. I consider it to be an appreciation and recognition of all (doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, psychologists, data-managers and others) who care about persons with bleeding disorders in my country. Though it means “a bit of extra work”, it is a pleasure to work with other colleagues around the globe. Although the acting president may be a bit more visible than others, it is and always will be a team work process. Interesting discussions with current EAHAD president Mike Makris and other colleagues from the EAHAD Executive Committee are inspiring. I cannot imagine organising the congress without the indispensable support of EAHAD Managing Director Aislin Ryan and her team. MCI represented by René Heller and his team is also great regarding all organisational and logistical issues.


What do you think are the key issues for haemophilia and allied disorders care in Europe in 2018 and onwards?
This is a very important and challenging question. In 2018, 10 years after publishing EAHAD’s European Principles of Haemophilia Care, we are still witnessing a significant disparity regarding care, world-wide, but also in Europe. Closing this gap is one of EAHAD’s main tasks, which we share with the World Federation of Hemophilia and the European Haemophilia Consortium.
Regarding Europe, most countries, including mine, have now sufficient supply of safe factor concentrates, which was not the case 20 or 30 years ago. I believe that the future belongs to comprehensive and personalized care where we do not treat only the disease, where we do not even treat only the body, but the human being as a whole. This holistic, multidisciplinary approach can make the most of the available treatment options and can be adapted based on the real life of a patient (their activities, dreams, challenges, and goals), based on the resources available. Though it will be applied differently in different settings, I am convinced that it is applicable to both privileged and less priviledged environments. Having factor is, indeed, very important and crucial, but we should not forget to think beyond factor.
For the past 40-50 years, the treatment arsenal we had was relatively stable. This has completely changed now and with the arrival of “new kids on the block” I believe that the time when we change our paradigm of haemophilia treatment is very close. And all this will be discussed during next EAHAD congress…


How does the EAHAD Congress help address these areas?
My answer will be very short: Let’s have a look at the programme.
Any advice for future Congress presidents?
No, I do not think I shall give any advice, as each congress is different. But, perhaps, I may have one recommendation: Enjoy it, as being part of the team preparing an EAHAD congress is fascinating, satisfying, motivating, and good fun!


Many young and aspiring medical professionals will be to EAHAD 2019. Do you have any advice for them on entering the bleeding disorders field?
Many medical students often skip the chapters about coagulation in their textbooks. But coagulation is a fascinating field and it is – in a certain way – a part of any other medical subspecialty. Being a coagulation specialist (scientist or clinician), you will have your own projects or patients, but you will also be a valuable member of the teams focused on surgery, traumatology, intensive care, oncology, ENT, gynaecology and obstetrics, paediatrics, internal medicine, etc. I love coagulation and I will always be encouraging my students and young colleagues to discover its beauty and diversity.


And for some more light-hearted questions:


What is your favourite place to visit in Prague?
I love The Old Town and Jewish Quarter and I always do my best to walk over the Charles Bridge, whenever in Prague. But these are rather touristic places. Walking in Jelení příkop (Deer’s Dike) around Prague’s castle is peaceful and soothing. In Saint Agnes Monastery you’ll be “breathing in” the history, and the lanes of Malá Strana (Lesser Quarter) will remind you of the peaceful past times.


What Czech dish do you recommend we try?
Winters are cold here and you will need some energy and strength to “survive”. Go for roasted pork or duck meat with cabbage/sauerkraut and dumplings. And rest assured, you will need at least one beer (which means 0,5l!) to wash it down. Na zdraví! (Cheers!)


Outside of your work, what gives you the biggest sense of accomplishment?
I believe that people are not born to work, but to live. Work brings me a great sense of accomplishment and even a lot of joy, but it cannot be the one and only meaning of life. What makes me happy and gives me the peace and energy to further enjoy life and work is both outside and inside me. And if I want those two parts to unite and “talk to each other”, I always go into the nature. I love walking in forests, I feel safe and happy there. One does not have to travel too far, sometimes the nicest places are just at your doorstep…