We have lost yet another promising young pediatric neurosurgeon and another beautiful human being. First Sanjiv Bhatia, and now Tim George. It is time to step back and reflect.
I can try to enumerate all the honors that Tim amassed in his lifetime. In neurosurgery, for example, he shone as a surgeon and physician and helped put a new medical center on the map. In research, he was a major advocate and mediator of collaborations between researchers and clinicians to enhance our understanding of neural tube defects. I know, as I was with him at these meetings the past 15+ years. In car racing, he was on top of his game, ranked and respected nationally and achieving podium finishes.
Or, I can give you Tim’s childhood story, with its ups and downs, accomplishments and tenacity; his academic prowess and basketball feats; his time as a DJ; and other seemingly important life-altering experiences. Or I can talk to you about the extensive charitable work he’s done with the Austin Black Physicians Association and others. Or we can just reminisce on what a great person, doctor and friend he was, as was Sanjiv before him.
But, none of that seems important at a time like this. All that you, who didn’t know Tim, need to know, and all that you, who knew him, need to remember is that he was kind. Not a bad word about anyone. Kind to his family, friends and patients. Whether in his typical brief smirk, his “hey, what’s up?”, or his lengthy
attempts at giving meaningful advice, he was genuine and his behavior permeated kindness. And in turn, he was cherished. It’s tough to be kind all the time. We lead stressful, busy lives in high-risk jobs, while making life and death decisions. But, Tim was always kind.
At his Memorial service, Tim’s 16-year-old son, TJ, was leaving the podium after his older brother Kevin had finished delivering their joint statement. But, then he stopped, turned back, and said: “No! I have something to say.” He got close to the microphone and stated emphatically, “What you really need to know is that my father was passionate about everything he did. Whether it’s basketball, car racing, his patients or being with us. Especially, being with us.”
Then, Tim’s wife Roz spoke about his humility and mentioned journal entries that she found after his death. She mentioned she was taken aback when Tim bought a journal on their favorite trip to Martha’s Vineyard, which was unlike him. It was one of those journals one finds at a bookstore, with a leading question on every page. She had not seen it again until the day before the memorial, when she was surprised once again because he had actually written in it, but not really by what he wrote: “What brings a smile to your face?” the journal asked. And his answer: “Getting a hug from my patients is something that always and immediately brings a smile to my face.” Another question, which is particularly poignant, was: “What positive insight have you gained from a recent loss?” He answered: “People are the most important thing on earth. Love deeply.”
Tim was quoted saying to a patient, “This is going to be like going on the world’s longest rollercoaster ride, and you may not always see me, but hold on! I’m going to have a seat on that ride with you, and I’m not getting off.” Tim’s kindness gave hope to his patients, and the memory of his warm and affectionate personality will hopefully give solace and encouragement to his wife and children, and a smile to us, his friends, who are grateful for having known him.
It seems that our specialty in general attracts people who are kind, and particularly empathetic. And Tim was the perfect example. So, look around you, smile and be appreciative, because it’s not the papers we publish, nor the awards we receive, not even the surgical feats that count. On our death bed, none of that matters. Instead, it’s how much of ourselves we give to our families, friends and patients. And at the next break, call your spouses and children, close family and friends, and tell them what they mean to you. And when you go home this weekend, embrace them and be appreciative for what you have. And when you see your first patient come Monday morning, spend an extra minute or two with them.
This is what Tim would want. So, let’s make his death a reminder for us to really live by caring. And maybe then his legacy, and Sanjiv’s legacy before him, will live on.
Bermans J. Iskandar, MD, FAANS
[Delivered at the AANS/CNS Pediatric Section Annual Meeting ꟾ Phoenix, Dec. 6, 2019]
Read Dr. George’s Obituary