Lessons from a Hero


I’ve written so many stories about the experiences my son had after his surgery to remove a brain tumor three years ago. Most of them are stories of healing and recovery – the stories about Disney World, and Camp Simcha, and the incredible people who helped us through the weeks and months and years after that day. But I have never written about the person at the center of his story, the man who literally saved our son. I have never written about Dr. Sanjiv Bhatia.

It’s cliché to call the man who saves your child “an angel.” We handed our son over to this man – a stranger – and trusted everything he said, followed his orders, and prayed that he knew what he was doing. We were told that neurosurgeons are notorious for their inflated egos. They are at the top of the medical food-chain, and people warned us not to expect much from our surgeon. “Expertise is more important than bedside manner,” my friend told me. Dr. Bhatia had both. On that first day that we met him, he sat with my son and reviewed the MRI images with him. He took my son in his lap, explaining to him the parts of the brain, how they work, and in his words, how beautiful it was, a huge tumor notwithstanding.

Every step of the way, Dr. Bhatia was with us, calming, assuring, supportive. On the day of the surgery, as he went over what to expect, my son looked at him, lifted his arm and said, “Dr. Bhatia, while you’re in there, can you take this splinter out of my arm? I’ve had it for a while.” Without missing a beat, Dr. Bhatia took his marker and drew a circle around the splinter. We all kind of laughed it off and then left to wait through the grueling surgery that would take all day.

Hours later when Dr. Bhatia came out to give us an update on the surgery, he asked us if we had any questions. My husband, jokingly, asked him if he had taken out the splinter. Smiling, Dr. Bhatia said, “That was the first thing I did.” Sure enough, when we were able to finally see our son, he had a huge bandage around his head, and a small one around his wrist.

It was a simple gesture that meant so much to my son and that most surgeons might have forgotten about and dismissed. But Dr. Bhatia seemed to always work from a position of humility and compassion, not ego and bravado. When the surgery was complete, my husband told Dr. Bhatia that thousands of people had been praying during the day throughout the procedure. Dr. Bhatia’s simple response reflected his fine and unassuming personality: “I know,” he said, “I felt it in my hands.”

Dr. Bhatia was my son’s friend through everything. With every MRI and every in-patient test, Dr. Bhatia was there, ready to make my son laugh, give him advice, and help us move away from those first fearful days and months.  “Don’t do drugs,” he warned my son at our last visit.  “I spent all this time fixing your brain and then you’re going to screw up my work?” And he always reminded us that he would get my son into college. “I’ve seen your brain. You can do anything,” he told my son.

To call Dr. Bhatia an angel might be cliché, but I can’t think of another term that sums up the beauty of this man’s soul. I think of his delicate hands, his gentle voice, his laugh, and I think of the power that he held in that office, in that operating room, and in that hospital, and how we didn’t even realize it because he never wielded it. All we knew was that he was saving our son, that he was fixing us. His medical recommendations for my son were given together with prescriptions for wine and a night out for me and my husband.  He validated our concerns, assuaged our fears, and held our hands.

I never took a picture of my son with his favorite surgeon. I always wanted to wait until we were seeing him for the last time, not coming back for a follow-up, not still worried about MRIs and symptoms. I didn’t realize that this last visit would be the last time we would have that chance. Dr. Bhatia was a masterful, talented surgeon, a man who understood that removing a little boy’s splinter was just as important as removing the tumor that was in his brain. His death leaves a void in the world, in the hospital, and in my heart. But I know, without a doubt, that the care he has given countless children and families, the benevolence and compassion that he bestowed on all of us, will remain with us, will remind us of how to act, of how to be kind, and how to truly be a hero.

And I know I will miss him.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Categories: Uncategorized

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

41 replies

  1. What a beautiful tribute to what sounds like a tremendous human being. Baruch dayan haemet

  2. Beautifully written, I had a pleasure to work and learn with him. One of the most intelligent, humble and skillful surgeon I have met.

  3. Angelic!!
    Speechless about his works n so grounded as a human being ! May his soul rest in peace 🙏

  4. Such a wonderful tribute. We also had to trust in Dr Bhatia as he had my granddaughters brain in his hands. Dr Duchowney our epilepsy doctor was in the O.R during the surgery and came out to update us, he told us we were so lucky to have Dr Bhatia, that he was an “artist” during this surgery ! I thank god we were sent to him. We will miss him ! He was a wonderful human being !

    • We had another surgeon review my son’s case and the surgeon told us that “whoever did this surgery (which was Dr. Bhatia) was masterful.” We were so lucky to have had him during that hard time.

  5. Thanks to God for Dr Bhatia and all the profesional like him,beside the skills they had and have a huge heart,may the Lord receives him in his lovely arms or ever🙏

  6. He was a amazing doctor and man . He loved his patents and they loved him . We met him through chance or as we say the Lord sent him to us , we were suppose to see his assistant dr sand berg when our daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2012 . But when we arrived from the Bahamas , at the office we were told we would be seeing dr Bhatia I felt right there the Lord sent him to us . He was always loving and compassionate to us . We will miss him greatly .i can only imagine the loss of his wife and kids at this time but I am praying for strength and comfort for each one of them .
    The Higgs family

  7. Having lost my husband to a brain tumor, I was especially interested in this physicians’ approach to surgery but more so his ability to put his patient and family at ease, which I felt myself in ready this article. May he mentor those from up above.

  8. Very inspiring. Many take aways.

  9. RIP Dr. Bhatia. You will be so missed by your family and friends, but more by those families whose children you cared for with your calm, tender care and loving hands.

  10. We have lost a great human who was sent on Earth by the almighty to help the sufferers, his absence has created a vacuum which cannot be fulfilled.

  11. I am sure reading your beautiful words will bring some comfort to those who knew him. You were very lucky to have known him and I hope all those around you will continue to be inspired by his work and his kindness and will continue to carry on his work, or at least the way he treated people. I am truly sorry for your loss. And especially for Binny.

  12. Our Family also reaped the great reward of this gifted angel with his healing hands and soft kind reassuring words of wisdom. You will truly be missed by the Oliva Family may you Rest In Peace Dr Bhatia.

  13. Thank you for writing such wonderful words. This is a perfect and exact description of Dr. Bhatia. My then 16y old had an 8+hr Preventive non-incidental cavernoma Removal surgery. Dr. Bhatia made us feel as if we were the only patient he had, the empathy and strength he gave us to trust the process and help for speedy recovery from always, always with a smile and sense of humor. This is devastating news and we will miss him, we feel his loss; we had plans to visit in July. May he be taken care of, as he took care of us in life. May his family be in peace and have strength, as Dr.Bhatia gave us strengh. RIP.

  14. Im a nurse at NCH and our hospital is in mourning. I know he is in peace because that kind of beautiful soul would deserve nothing less. As a wife and mom my heart aches for his wife and son. Dr. B has left a void no surgeon could fill.

  15. Adina – your writing is like an artist’s painting or a dancer’s solo. How gorgeous a tribute to what sounds like a very special soul. Surely, he has a beautiful place upstairs from which to watch over all of his patients. 😘

  16. Beautiful!
    Some people make the world a better place and he seemed to be one of them.

  17. I am forever thankful to Dr Sanjiv for his masterful guidance and support both during my Trigeminal Neuralgia suffering and during my father’s difficult time when he was debilitated by multiple illnesses. What makes him special for me is his answer when I asked him his secret behind rearing wonderful children. His simple and straightforward advice, which I have tried to follow was “There is no secret formula, Manish: you do what you can everyday – you persist and you persevere, and things will fall in place.” He cared enough to help – in all aspects of life.

    As I try to make sense of this tragedy I am reminded that whatever good I may do – it will not guarantee me a long life. All I can hope for is to try and be happy while I am here. I take solace in that Dr Sanjiv passed from us doing what he loved and helping everyone that sought his care. They say those are the two things that make you happiest. I hope the love and gratitude we showered on him brought a smile to his face….I just wish we could have seen that smile for a bit longer.

  18. He was our “angel” and “hero”. He saved my daughter who has Moya Moya a disease not many know about, but i was lucky that he did and he knew the surgeries that my princess needed! He will forever be one of the most important man in my life and hers. Our family will be forever indebted to him. He will always be family! Our Dr. Cannoli, how my daughter nicknamed him, and never missed an opportunity to call him. A true example of a human being and top notch surgeon. Forever ours!

  19. Words fall short to express this creation of the almighty, his expertise in medical science, midas touch to heal and above all the kind hearted smile was all one needed to come out of sufferings. It is hard to believe that Dr. Sanjiv Bhatia, “babbi bhaiya” to me, is no longer there to take care of us yet the memory of his smiling face and fragrance of kindness will always remain with us. May God comfort him just as he comforted the humans around him. Om Shanti.

  20. What a beautiful tribute to an excellent surgeon, wonderful friend, great husband and father. He has touched many hearts and he will be missed but what I’ve learned over the past few days is to remember all of the good he did in a very short period of time. I will remember his smile, his sense of humor, and the way he spoke and took care of his patients and his work in Haiti. I know he will be watching over all of us. Carolyn

  21. Same experience with our daughter just a month ago. I can describe the admiration and love we feel for him. I cant believe we wont see him next month in her check up. We prayed for his soul and all his family with lots of love.

  22. Dear Rita
    You and your son are in my prayers and may HOD give you immense strength to bear this loss. Your husband sounds incredible as a human being . May his soul RIP and I pray for you and your family. Much love Swati

  23. It makes me proud to read such great comments about Dr Sanjeev Bhatia ,the famous Neurosurgeon.We were collegues in MBBS at AIIMS New Delhi.He was passionate about Neurosurgery right from his MBBS days.He was simple,sincere,dedicated & hard working.He will always b missed as dear friend & a great neurosurgeon.RIP

  24. I share this story personally. I pray to God daily for such specialists. Yes my child is alive and well today because of such specialists who go beyond boundaries to save such tender lives. May his soul rest in peace. Thank you.

  25. Having known Sanjiv for decades as a colleague (we’re both pediatric neurosurgeons), this wonderful tribute and the many great comments ring as true testaments to his humility, skill and a most beautiful personality.

    We have spent many hours sharing our dreams and professional challenges/successes… his love of family, friends & patients is indeed a true gift! I will miss him and the only solace is that he is in a better place….

    God surely will reward dear Sanjiv for his integrity, sincerity & hard wok!

  26. Those are beautiful and well deserved words. He was and amazing physician and wonderful human being. Who I had the honor of meeting and working with. My international families would come desperate looking for answers would leave his office filled with HOPE!! He was loved by so many children and families. He changed their lives and for that they are forever grateful! I’m blesedd to have had the chance to meet such a gentle soul.
    RIP Dr. Bhatia

  27. Had the privilege of working under him, technically our team (PiCU) took care of his patients pre/post neurosurgery. He was amazing and his personality outside of the hospital was just as admirable.

  28. What beautiful words you have expressed here about a man who is missed so much in the walls of NCH and the walls of our PICU. Thank you so much for sharing this. God Bless you and your family.


  1. The Myth of Sisyphus and Why I Run (or, The Vegas Speech) – Writing Elves

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: