Many people avoid contact with blood. Dr. Zareh Demirjian studied it intently, hoping to learn about how it flows through the body. Early on in his career, he was intrigued by how clots formed and how other disorders affect blood flow.
A hematologist who spoke four languages, Dr. Demirjian spent more than four decades at Massachusetts General Hospital helping patients overcome blood and circulatory ailments.
“He was a real physician in the old-fashioned sense,” said Dr. Ferdinando Buonanno, director of the Cardio-Neurology Clinic in Mass. General’s Department of Neurology and codirector of the Pediatric Stroke Service at MassGeneral Hospital for Children. “He knew how to take care of people and he was very smart. He was basically the go-to person for those of us here, with difficult cases in particular.”
Even as his own aortic pump was failing, Dr. Demirjian tended to his patients, treating those with illnesses such as leukemia and lymphoma.
Dr. Demirjian died of heart failure Dec. 24 in Mass. General. He was 76 and lived in Belmont.
He picked up languages quickly, which came in handy when he was growing up in an Armenian household in Beirut. His family had fled the Armenian genocide of 1915 and joined a thriving Armenian community in Lebanon.
In 1958, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree from American University of Beirut. He received a medical degree from American University six years later.
He immigrated to the United States in 1966 and worked as a senior resident in internal medicine at Lahey Clinic and later at Lemuel Shattuck Hospital.
Invited to attend a colleague’s picnic, Dr. Demirjian offered to give a ride to another attendee, Margo Balukjian, and playfully scolded her for not speaking much Armenian at the time. The two married not long afterward, and she learned to speak Armenian fluently during their marriage, family members said.
Dr. Demirjian started working at Mass. General in 1969 as a clinical and research fellow and became a member of the hematology and oncology staff in 1971.
Often beginning his day early with a newspaper and a cup of Armenian coffee, “he was one of those people who never slept in,” said his daughter, Talinn, of Watertown. “He was somebody who always had to be busy and always had to be doing something.”
Family and friends said Dr. Demirjian enjoyed training postdoctoral students at Harvard Medical School.
As students followed him to the bedsides of patients, Dr. Demirjian would describe the diagnosis and condition “in a way that even the patient understood,” said Dr. Gus Vlahakes, professor of surgery and cardiologist at Mass. General.
Patients, meanwhile, found they could look to Dr. Demirjian for advice beyond his medical expertise, friends and colleagues said.
“He was very trustworthy,” said the Rev. Krikor Maksoudian of Arlington. “There was nothing that was not genuine about him. You could turn to him and could consult on very personal issues, not just on health issues.’’
Dr. Demirjian was watchful for patients with Armenian last names so he could offer them care in their native tongue. Over the years, he helped many Armenian families adjust to their surroundings after they arrived in the United States.
“He brought together people that just arrived in this country, young people mostly,” Maksoudian said.
When an earthquake struck the northern region of Armenia in 1988, Dr. Demirjian worked with other Armenian-Americans in Greater Boston to bring wounded children to the United States for lifesaving care.
In his office at Mass. General, Dr. Demirjian filled cabinet drawers with articles and papers he studied and highlighted to help stay at the cutting edge of his field. In more recent years, he had begun to narrow his interests to blood clotting, his family said.
Other doctors often consulted with him on complicated cases.
“When it comes to a sick patient and you’re in a bind and you need advice, whether it’s 2 in the morning or whenever, he was there,” said Dr. Glenn LaMuraglia, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School. “He was the kind of guy who gave you that added little edge to get you results that much better.
Dr. Demirjian, however, often offered his advice in as few words as possible.
“He was one of those people who didn’t waste words on things he didn’t think were important,” his daughter said. “He would only say things if he thought he was adding to a conversation.”
In his Belmont home, Dr. Demirjian used a small room for repairing watches and clocks, setting up a watchmaker’s bench he had acquired and keeping at hand important watch and clock parts.
“He really liked to figure things out,” his daughter said.
A service has been held for Dr. Demirjian, who in addition to his wife and daughter leaves a son, Aram, of Irvine, Calif.; a brother, Raffi, of San Leandro, Calif.; and two grandchildren.
“He had a very busy practice, but every patient was an individual and everybody got the same attention to detail, irrespective of the patient’s socioeconomic status,” Vlahakes said. “They were treated in a very compassionate way. And the thing about Zareh is that we miss the person. We miss the really traditional, mid-20th century, caring doc who had a unique ability to bond with his patient.”