John V. Basmajian

Click Here for Memorial from AAA's June 2008 Newsletter

John Basmajian

Dr. John V. Basmajian, O.C, O.On, M.D., FACA, FRCP(C),  FSBM, FRCPS (Glasgow), FACRM (Australia), FABMR, a world-renowned anatomist, medical scientist and clinician, passed away on Tuesday, March 18, 2008 in his 91th year, after a brief illness. John was born on June 21, 1921 of Armenian Parentage, in Constantinople, Turkey (now Istanbul). He came to Canada with his parents (Mihran and Mary Evelian) in 1923; later they became Canadian citizens. They lived in Brantford, Ontario, Canada where John grew up and received his early education.

He entered the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto, Canada in 1942; while still in medical school, he joined the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corp. He received the Saddington Medal in 1943 and the Cody Silver Medal from the University of Toronto. He received his M.D. with honors in 1945. Basmajian started his medical and surgical residencies in Toronto at Sunnybrook Hospital and the Hospital for Sick Children while he was still in the service. At the end of WW2 in 1945, he was released from the army with the rank of Captain. Shortly after he became a senior resident in surgery, he was hospitalized with tuberculosis.

Although he aspired to become an orthopedic surgeon, he was unable to do so because of health concerns. When he was discharged from the hospital in 1949, he accepted a position as a Lecturer in the Anatomy Department in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto. He was anxious to learn more of Dr. J.C. Boileau Grant’s method of teaching Gross Anatomy. Grant, a world-renowned gross anatomist, was Chair of Anatomy from 1930 to 1956. Through his textbooks (Method of Anatomy, Atlas of Anatomy and Dissector of Anatomy), Grant made an indelible impression on the teaching of anatomy throughout the world. Basmajian also became interested in kinesiology, biomechanics, and clinical electromyography.

John married Dora (nee Lucas), a nurse, in 1947; they have three children: Dr. Haig Lucas Basmajian, a surgeon in Cobourg Ontario, Canada; Nancy Phillips and Sally Anne Conway, and four grandchildren. In 1951 he was promoted to Assistant Professor. He took a leave of absence in 1953 to pursue medical research in electromyography at St. Thomas’s Hospital in London, England. When he returned to Toronto in 1954, he was promoted to Associate Professor. He also served as a member of the Department of Neurology at the Hospital for Sick Children. He was Secretary of the Banting Research Foundation, and Director at Large of the Ontario Division of the Canadian Cancer Society. He was awarded the Starr Gold Medal for Medical Research in the University of Toronto, and was promoted to full Professor of Anatomy in 1956.

In 1957 Basmajian was appointed Professor and Head of the Department of Anatomy at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. He was elected a member of the Board of Education and served on this board for eight years. He was also a founding member of the St. Lawrence College of Applied Arts and Technology. He was a member of the Fitness Council of Canada, and was Chair of its Research Review Committee. Basmajian became known internationally for his pioneering work in electromyography, the study of electrical discharges from muscles. He wrote a book on his work “Muscles Alive: Their Functions Revealed by Electromyography”.

Basmajian was a prodigy of Professor John Charles Boileau Grant, the Chair of Anatomy at the University of Toronto from 1930-1956.  In the late 1950s, Grant asked Basmajian to be the author of his world-renowned book, “METHOD of ANATOMY by Regions, Descriptive and Deductive”. The book is now known as “Grant’s Method of Anatomy”. In 1969 Basmajian was appointed Professor of Anatomy, Psychiatry, and Physical Medicine at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. He also served as Director of the Emory University Regional Rehabilitation and Training Center.

Basmajian returned to Canada in 1977 when he was appointed Professor of Medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. He was also Director of the Rehabilitation Centre, Chedoke-McMaster Hospitals in Hamilton. He was appointed to the Board of Gerontology Research Council of Ontario, and served as the Chairman of its Scientific Committee from 1980 -1984. He was a member of the AAA Executive Committee (1975-1979) and President of AAA in 1985-1986.

He retired from McMaster University in 1986. However he continued to work as a consultant to various Canadian and American bodies. He also continued to conduct and direct research in electrophysiology and biofeedback. Later he became the Director of Research and Training Grants for the Easter Seal Research Institute in Toronto. Although retired, he continued to be very active. In 1987 an AAA’s Basmajian Award was presented to recognize junior health science faculty for excellence in teaching gross anatomy, and outstanding accomplishments in biomedical research or scholarship in education.

In 1989, on behalf of the Project Hope, he went to the Soviet Armenia for three months to provide assistance to the people who were injured during the earthquake. In 1991, Basmajian was the recipient of the AAA Henry Gray Award, the highest honor for scientific achievement. In the same year, he was awarded the Order of Ontario (O.On), the most prestigious honor an Ontario citizen can receive. In 1995, he was the recipient of the Officer of the Order of Canada by the Governor General of Canada, the most prestigious honor a Canadian Citizen can receive. Part of the citation stated: “He greatly influenced generations of physicians- in-training and invented several widely-used devices”.

Gary Mawe with John Basmajian.

Basmajian was one of the most productive scientists in the world. He published 350 scientific papers and chapters in books, and was author or editor of 59 books, 17 of which are translated into foreign languages. He has also served on the editorial boards of 14 scientific journals. He became Director of Research and Training Grants for the Easter Seal Research Institute in Toronto. He lectured worldwide at more than 100 universities, and in 1963 he was a Traveling Exchange Scientist with the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Basmajian had similar honors in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, and Egypt. He was co-founder and President of the International Society of Electromyographic Kinesiology in 1965. He was President of the Biofeedback Society of America from 1979-1980. Although he was very busy, he attended AAA meetings as often as he could.

His many honors, in addition to those mentioned previously, are: Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (1979) and Honorary Fellow of the Australian College of Rehabilitation Medicine (1987).

Written by Keith L. Moore, Professor Emeritus, Division of Anatomy, Department of Surgery, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto. Canada.

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