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(E) Martin Hrgovcic, M.D., Ph.D.
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  06/24/2002 | People | Unrated
(E) Martin Hrgovcic, M.D., Ph.D.

Martin Hrgovcic, M.D., Ph.D.

Prominent Oncologist,Combats Cancer,Fights For Croatian Freedom

 By Ekrem “Eck” Spahich


          Cancer specialist, physician,humanitarian, freedom- promoter, organizer, cancerresearcher, family man, dedicatedCatholic, Croatian-American, Texan, Dr. Martin J. Hrgovcic has been many things during the course of his life.

 Dr. Hrgovcic, Ph.D., F.A.C.N., consultant in internalmedicine and oncology, senior partner of the Diagnostic Clinic of Houston,Texas, came to the United States in l969 at the age of 43 because he was not allowed to advance as a physician inCroatia. He was not a Communist Party member, but a Croat and a church-going, God-fearing man -- both considered undesirable bythose runninghis homeland at the time.

A fellow colleaguefrom Croatia, Dr. Marko Turic, president of the University Hospital for Tumors in Zagreb, once said, “Dr. Hrgovcic’s lifetime goals have been fighting cancer and the enemies of Croatia.”  Turic spoke of highly of Hrgovcic at the 25th anniversaryof medical oncology in Croatia, Dec. 15, 1994, in Zagreb, where Hrgovcic, wasawarded with a Diploma, a Medal, and a beautifully illustrated book  “OurCountry, Croatia,” in recognition of his role in founding and development ofmedical oncology in Croatia.

Dr. Hrgovic is aformer clinical associate internist in the Department of Internal Medicine, theUniversity of Texas System Cancer Center at the M. D. Anderson Hospital andTumor Institute, Houston, and a former clinical associate at theDepartment of InternalMedicine, University of Texas Medical School, Houston. Anative of Dubrave, a small Croatian village, nestled halfwaybetween the towns of Tuzla and Brcko, in Bosnia, Dr.Hrgovcicwas born June 22, 1926 to Jozoand Janja Hrgovcic, a poor farming couple. During his first 27 years of life,he was often hungry, without sufficient clothing and shoes to wear. As a youngster, he helped his parents by taking care of livestock.

After completingelementary school, at the age of ten, he was sent to Franciscan ClassicalGymnasium (High School) in Visoko, near Sarajevo, where he studied to be apriest, he reminisced.  However, hecompleted Tuzla High School (matura)in l947. As a middle schoolstudent, he was called by the  Communistauthorities from the nearby City of Brcko to join the city’s  Communist Party committee.  Areasregional leadership attempted torecruit   him into theCommunist Party.  They had hoped ifa son of a well-known familyfrom Dubrave joined, others would follow his example and recruitment of othersin the region would be much easier.  Needlessto say, he declined the invitation. On two other occasions, while a medical schoolstudent, Dr. Hrgovcic was once again invited to becomea member of the Yugoslav Communist Party. Onceagain, the declined for  “personal”reasons. He received his medicaltraining at the University of Zagreb, where he was awarded his M.D. degree in l953. Hebecame a Diplomate at the Board of Internal Medicine in 1961, earning his degreeof Doctor of  Medical Sciences from the university in 1968 for hisdissertation  “ClinicalSignificance of Serum Copper Levels in Hemoblastoses,” (cancers of the blood forming organs).

          Dr. Hrgovcic served as an instructor of medicine at the Universityof Zagreb Medical School, l961-65. Aftera friend, Dr. Robert Lange, a medical specialist ofKnoxvillle, Tenn., helped him to get a scholarship with the Institute For Tumorsat the University of Texas, Dr.Hrgovcic arrived for the first time in the UnitedStates in 1965. Hesaid, at the time, his English was rather limited, and with a with a “brokenaccent.” Shortly after his arrival in Texas, he became a clinical fellow inthe Department of Developmental Therapeutics,University of Texas System Cancer Center, M.D.Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute, l965-67. From l967-69, heserved as chairman of Chemotherapy in the Institutefor Malignant Diseases, Zagreb.

His well-knownpatriotism for Croatia and his Catholic upbringing did not help hissituation in the homeland.. He realized his predicament that his future wasfutile, without hope. Dr. Hrgovcic saidhe took into account the future of  hischildren, that the enslaved Croatia was getting weaker, and the homeland waslosing hope of regaining its freedom and independence. Unable to conductscientific work and publicize his research in Communist Yugoslavia, anduncertain of any future advancement in his field, Dr. Hrgovcic decided toimmigrate to the United States in l969. Shortlyafter coming to Texas for the second time, from 1970-73,he was research and faculty associate in the Department of Medicine, HematologySection, University of Texas System Cancer Center M.D. Anderson Hospital andTumor Institute in Houston. Since1973, he has been in private practice, joining the DiagnosticClinic of Houston as a consultant in the fields of  oncology/hematology andinternal medicine. His patients come from all walks of life and from anumber of states and territories inNorth America. Before the devaluation of foreign currencies in relation to theU.S. dollar, various high-ranking foreign leaders, diplomats and their familymembers were his frequent patients.He vividly recalled when a 15-year-old boyfrom Honduras came to his office after being diagnosed with an acute leukemia,an extremely fatal disease that kills within three to six months. Dr. Hrgovcicwas of the opinion the youngster had infectious mononucleosis, an abnormaldisease caused by a virus, spontaneously treatable within four to six weeks.The boy’s father, who happened to have been a children’s doctorin their homeland, was relieved to learn the disease was not fatal, but rathertreatable. Approximately 10years later, Houston’s office of the FederalBureau of Investigation called the doctor’s office, posing Dr. Hrgovcic’s nurse several questions. Half an hour later, agents of the FBI blocked the doors of the Diagnostic Clinic and Hospital. Long columns of black government limousines stopped infront of the clinic. The agents looked closely at his office, even though hestill did not know the reason of their visit, Dr. Hrgovcicoffered them coffee. The agents declined his offer. He noticed they weresporting fully-loaded automatic weapons under their coats. About ten minuteslater, the father of the youngster came in with his son who was now a grown upyoung man. They were accompanied with several bodyguards.The young man’s father, a pediatric doctor, had becomePresident of the Republic of Honduras. He introduced his son to Dr. Hrgovcic,who became pleasantly surprised with the visit of a president of a SouthAmerican country, who came to see him and personally thank him for a correctdiagnosis of his son. FBI officials gave the host permission to take thePresident of Honduras to lunch, only after the agents were assured that one wingof the clinic could be blocked off as a safety precaution.Abottle of presidential liqueur, presented as a gift to Dr. Hrgovcic by the Honduranvisitor, remains as a special memento in the Hrgovcic home.Dr.Hrgovcic has much admiration for the Honduran President,who remained calm during the lunch at the clinic, even though earlier that daythe Honduran leader learned that guerrillas kidnapped his daughter. 

                In addition to his busy professional career as an internist andcancer specialist, Dr. Hrgovcic finds time for family and his sufferinghomeland.  He was actively engagedin Croatia’s struggle for freedom andindependence in the early 1990’s. It wassecond time during his lifetime he saw cruelty and  genocidedirected against his homeland.

         Dr. Hrgovcic recalls that it was painful to see his village churchof Dubrave bombed and heavily damaged in the spring of l992 by Serb aggressors.Some children and their mothers escaped to Croatia before theSerb forces completely  demolishedbridges and isolated the entire Bosnia-Herzegovina region. Young men from hisvillage stayed behind to defend what was left of their families and their homes,initially fighting with hunting rifles against Serb tanks, artillery andmilitary aircraft. They were able to fend off the aggressors, and Dubrave stayedout of Serb hands, Dr. Hrgovcic proudly says.

         During the war years in Croatia and Bosnia, Dr. Hrgovcic and his family  were at theforefront of Croatian-American activity Houston, the largestCroatian-American community in the Southwest. The Hrgovcic family, with the helpof other  Houston’sCroatians collected food, clothing, medicines, medicalsupplies and money. They also organized demonstrations, to inform world andnational leaders, as well as the local and national news media concerning thegenocide against the people in Croatia and  Bosnia-Herzegovina. In August 1991, Dr. Hrgovcic established Croatian Fraternal Union Bluebonnet Lodge 1836 in Houston, the first inTexas.

         In August 1992, during the Republican National convention,Dr. Hrgovcic organized the Croatian-American community in Houston for a rally to protest the Bush administration’s inaction in the face of continued Serb aggression and ethniccleansing held one block west of  Houston’s Astrodome. Croatian-Americansand their friends braved 90-degree-plus temperatures to take part in the demonstration. It was at this rally that Dr. Hrgovcic proudlyshowed his love for thesuffering people in the   “OldCountry.”  He told the crowdthe U.S. leadership at the time was attempting to mislead  theAmerican public by suggesting  “anotherVietnam” in case of theAmerican involvement in the conflict would be another Vietnam. “Bosniaand Croatia are not another Vietnam,” he told the crowdat the rally. “Our people will fight their own war. We don’t want Americansoldiers dying for our freedom.” Dr.Hrgovcic urged President Bush to lift the arms embargoagainst Croatia and Bosnia so they can defend themselves. The dignified rally andspeeches were admired byHouston’s and national news media. Inadditon to organizing several rallies in the Houston area, heactively participated in humanitarian relief efforts, through concerts, picnicsof Houston’s Lone Star Croatian Club and the activities at the SlavicHeritage Festival. He was actively involved in combating theSerb propaganda by writing letters to editors of regional and nationalpublications, in an attempt to stop the Serb campaign of lies andmisinformation. He has served in various local and national Croatian-Americanorganizations in the U.S., and was on the advisory council of the Republic ofCroatia Embassy in Washington, D.C. Forhis contribution in public health, social care and promotionof moral values, he was honored with the “Danica Hrvatska” (Catherine Zrinski) Medal by the late Croatian President Franjo Tudjman.

          Heholds membership in the American Society of Internal Medicine,the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the American Society of Hematology,the Texas Society of Internal Medicine, the Texas Medical Association and theHarris County Medical Society and the Houston Society of Internal Medicine. Heis a fellow of the American College of Nutrition. He received the Mike HoggScientific Paper Award for his research in “Serum Copper Levels inHematologic Malignant Diseases” from the University of Texas Graduate Schoolof Biomedical Sciences, Houston, l966.

 Dr. Hrgovcic isthe author or co-author of more than 30 publicationsand three chapters in medical text books, and one book entitled, “Copper andLymphomas.” His major research interests have been in trace elements inpatients with cancer with particular attention to copper. Heis happily married for 41 years to the former Ruzica “Seka”Loncarec of Josipdol, near Ogulin, Croatia. The couple has been blessed withthree children and one grandson. Their older daughter, Dubravka Hrgovcic Romanowho lives in Austin, Texas, is the associate executive director for the TexasAssociation of School Boards. Dubravka is the mother of their grandson, JohnJoseph Romano.Their younger daughter, Mirjana Hrgovcic, also lives in Austin,and has been employed by Southwest Airlines since l987 as a flight attendant.Their son, Hrvoje J. Hrgovcic, has a doctorate in physics from MassachusettsInstitute of Technology. He is employed by the Enron Corp., in Houston, as headof its research of weather risk management. In his limited spare time, Dr. Hrgovcic enjoys gardening andworks on his ranch outside Houston. He also frequentlyvisits Croatia and hisnative village in the Posavina region of northeastBosnia, where a number of his relatives still remain at their ancestral homes.

Diagnostic Clinic of Houston
6448 Fannin St.
Houston, Texas 77030 
Office Phone:713-797-9191
Office Fax:713 797-6617

Primary Specialty Hematologists 
Secondary Specialty Oncologists 

Medical School University of Zagreb, 
Zagreb, Croatia 1953 

Residency Hospitals of University of Zagreb, 
Zagreb, Croatia 1961 

University of Texas 1965-1967; MD Anderson Cancer Center 1970-1973 

Board Certification Internal Medicine
Health Plans Current list of insurance plans. 
Languages* English, Croatian 
Outside Interests Ranching 
Special Interests Diagnosing and treatment of Cancer and Blood Diseases 
Personal Notes Practicing Medicine is what I enjoy doing most. My patients are like family to me. 

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  • Comment #1 (Posted by Vedran Sohinger)

    A great article about a great man!
  • Comment #2 (Posted by Giuliano G.)

    This man treated the cancer of my father, thanks to him my father it's alive, a great friend and a great person, we have many years without knowing about him, I would love to know if still alive and if there is any way to conctact him, i called to the clinic in Houston but they told me he is retired, greetings
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