Canada is home ...
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I'm Dr. Nigil Haroon. I'm an assistant professor with the University of Toronto, clinician-scientist with the University Health Network, and a scientist for the Krembil Research Institute. My area of interest is a disease called ankylosing spondylitis. Patients with ankylosing spondylitis have a lot of inflammation in the body, and the inflammation leads to pain, stiffness, and difficulty in moving.

Dr. Nigil Haroon
Dr. Nigil Haroon is clinician-scientist with the University Health Network, and a scientist for the Krembil Research Institute. (Photo: UHN)

My area of interest is finding the immunological basis of this disease, finding all the pathways involved, and also to find out if we can add and define novel areas for targeting, for treatment

I moved to Canada from India. I'm from a province, a small province in the southern part of India. It's called Kerala. It is also known as God's Own Country, because of the fact it is so beautiful. It's a tourist attraction, it is one of the favourite sites for tourism in India.

Once you cross the border of Kerala, everything turns green. It's like a tropical paradise. You have hill stations, we have backwaters, we have lakes, we have the sea, we have many beaches. Anywhere you turn, you'll see beaches. So it's got a mix of everything you would want as a tourist in Kerala.

I did my education there, the medical school, then I went to the Northern part of the country, in a place called Luknau. It's near the capital, near Delhi. I did my rheumatology training there before I moved here.

So I finished my rheumatology training in December 2007, first week of January I was here.

It was totally serendipity, I would say. I did not plan to move to Canada when I was doing my rheumatology. I happened to meet a professor, Robert Inman, in one of our conferences. He was a visiting professor at that conference, and I was presenting a paper.

So, he liked the study, he liked the methodology and he asked me what my plans were, I said I had no strong plans and he said, "Well, I think you should come to Canada."

So this conference was held in Lucknow and it's the capital of a province called Uttar Pradesh in India. And this was a rheumatology association congress. I had to take Professor Inman to his hotel after the meeting one evening, and he jumped into my car and we started moving, and I turned on my stereo system and there was Dire Straits, my favourite band, playing. Professor Inman said, "Oh, this is Dire Straits. That's my favourite band too!" And he said, "Let's go for a ride." [laughs] So we drove around the city, showing him all the places around Lucknow. Outside, it would be wedding bands marching, brass bands marching. And inside, it was Dire Straits playing. So it was fun. That's how we sort of bonded.

Now, our labs are together. Most of our projects are interlinked, and our lab meetings we do together, so we bounce ideas off each other and it's a great environment to be working with the Spondylitis team and Professor Rob Inman. I can't think about working anywhere else other than UHN. It's so difficult because this is where I did my PhD, so all my work towards ankylosing spondylitis-based research, my career, everything is based here. So I started here, and I really can't think of working in any other environment. I think it is one of the best places to work in Canada.

Kerala tropical forest
Dr. Haroon is originally from Kerala, a province in India. Some call it ‘God’s Own Country’ because its tropical forests and greenery make it so beautiful. (Photo: Nigil Haroon)

Canada is home now. In '98-'99 period, that is when I left the little province of Kerala. I was very homesick at that time. The first period, when I went for my internal medicine training, and then I moved onto another place for rheumatology, and then I moved to Canada. After that initial period, that homesickness really did not affect me. Wherever I go it becomes home. Now, 10 years in Canada, my family is here. This is home to me now.

Home is a place, I think, where we would long to come back to wherever you go, or if you go visiting, or anywhere if you go out. It's quite interesting if I'm away for a few days to the States. As soon as I land in Pearson Airport, and walk down and see the Tim Hortons, and I feel, "Ah, this is home." That's the feeling I get.

That is home, really. You feel so happy to be back.

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