As Dr. Charles Nyman runs, he talks.
“I miss you,” he tells his friend, Dr. Michael J. Davidson, whose sudden and violent death he still cannot understand. “I wish you were running next to me.”
On Monday, Nyman and nine other runners, most of whom worked with Davidson at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, will run the Boston Marathon in Davidson’s honor, to raise money for his wife and four children, including an infant daughter he never got to meet.
On Jan. 20, less than three months before his child was born, Davidson, 44, a highly respected cardiovascular surgeon, was shot to death in an exam room at the Brigham by Stephen Pasceri, whose mother died weeks after Davidson successfully operated on her. Pasceri, 55, had become obsessed with the idea that Davidson was responsible for her death, and he killed himself after shooting Davidson twice as the doctor tried to flee and warn others of the danger.
“There’s a certain amount of dedication and commitment that the Marathon requires. In some ways, this is a commitment to Mike,” said Nyman. “I think the buildup and the training that’s required for the Marathon for me personally is part of the healing process. . . . As much as it’s helping Mike, it’s helping me, too.”
Davidson ran the Marathon in 2010 to celebrate his 40th birthday, which fell on the same day, and the team now running in his honor had by Friday afternoon raised more than $70,000 to benefit his wife, Dr. Terri Halperin, and their four children: Graham, 2; Liv, 8; Kate, 10; and Mikaela Jane, born April 4.
In a statement, Halperin said her family is “incredibly touched” by the efforts of those running for her husband.
“Michael ran the 2010 Boston Marathon for his 40th birthday as part of Team Brigham to raise money for the hospital, and it was one of his proudest accomplishments,” Halperin said. “We appreciate all of the personal sacrifices the runners have made in order to run on Monday, including all of the training that they have endured through a very difficult winter. We are also extremely grateful to all of those who have supported the runners.”
Davidson had hoped to train for another Marathon to run with his wife for her 40th birthday. Both their families will be in Wellesley on Marathon Monday to cheer on the runners, Halperin said in her statement.
“I am thrilled that these people are running in his memory,” said Davidson’s best friend, Dr. Joshua Rosenow, a neurosurgeon in Chicago. “Not only to keep his memory alive, but to highlight the atrocity that was committed, so that this never, ever, ever, happens to anyone else.”
Nyman, a cardiac anesthesiologist who was part of the team that cared for Davidson after he was shot on Jan. 20, said Davidson’s death was “too sudden, too abrupt — I wanted to do more.”
Davidson was a rare surgeon who did not see hierarchies among his fellow caregivers, he said — “an easy guy to like and one of the good ones.” Since his friend’s death, Nyman said he has grappled with feelings of emptiness and profound loss. But he has also changed in another way: He no longer takes anything for granted.
“If someone comes up with an idea to do something, or wants to come ’round for tea or dinner, I’m no longer worried about whether the house is clean or what I’m gonna cook. When friends want to come round, it’s being together that’s important, not all the frills,” he said. “I’m far more attentive to my wife and daughter. I’m genuinely conscious of the fact that I’m leaving each day.”
It is a change that several other runners on the team said they have felt in themselves as they pound out the miles.
“I don’t run with music, I run with my thoughts,” said Dr. Pinak Shah, who played in a band called Off Label with Davidson, and who was with him moments before he walked into the exam room where he would be killed. “I never did make sense of it, and I never will make sense of it. The one thing I came across is a reminder of how fragile and random life can be.”
For Dr. Danny Muehlschlegel, a colleague whom Davidson once asked to run a marathon and who insisted then he would “absolutely not . . . never” run a marathon in his life, the decision to run Boston this year was easy.
“It was not even a split-second decision,” said Muehlschlegel. “This is absolutely one way I could honor him.”
Dr. Caroline Fox, who lives in the same Wellesley neighborhood where Davidson lived and worked with him at the Brigham, said he and his wife had helped teach her how to hydrate properly and carry enough snacks when she picked up running about a year ago.
She used to see them all over town — at soccer games, gymnastics, birthday parties — and their families celebrated holidays together.
Training for Boston, she said, she runs the same streets where she used to see Davidson, and she thinks of his legacy: doctor, husband, father, runner.
“I’m running in his honor, I’m running with all those memories and all those different facets of his life,” she said. “It’s not just a run anymore. It’s much more than that.”
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