Slain Brigham doctor recalled as caring, ‘visionary’
Dr. Michael J. Davidson did not balk when Tom Keefe asked him to consider replacing two leaky heart valves. Another surgeon had felt the procedure was too risky — and Davidson acknowledged the peril: He told Keefe he stood a 30 percent chance of dying from the surgery.
Still, Davidson said he thought surgery could help. Keefe believed him.
Not only did Keefe survive the 6½-hour operation, he thrived, bouts of extreme fatigue and breathlessness behind him. Now 78, Keefe goes to the gym every day and works in his Norwood yard, said his wife, Sandra.
In the world of surgery, Davidson, at 44, was still early in his career. But, as Tom Keefe can attest, the physician gunned down at Brigham and Women’s Hospital had already demonstrated the skill and grit of a veteran surgeon.
Davidson died Tuesday night after hours of surgery in the same hospital where he had worked. Investigators said his assailant, who fired two shots into Davidson, then used the same gun to kill himself.
At an emotional briefing for the media Wednesday afternoon, Davidson’s colleagues recalled him as a “visionary” physician who bridged two disciplines to pioneer a new form of surgery and yet always took time to understand his patients and do what was best for them.
Sandra Keefe, for example, said she and her husband immediately liked Davidson at their first meeting with the surgeon, who operated on her husband in July 2013. “He explained to us in language we could understand exactly what is going on. He said: ‘This will be a very risky operation. But I believe we can do it,’ ” she recalled.
“He was a great doctor and a great man,’’ Tom Keefe said.
Davidson was also, his colleagues said, a devoted father of three, a fly-fisherman who made his own fishing rods, and lead guitarist in a doctors’ rock band named Off Label.
Davidson, 44, lived in Wellesley with his wife, Dr. Terri Halperin, a plastic surgeon in Brookline. They have three children, Kate, 9, Liv, 7, and Graham, 2. Halperin is seven months pregnant with their fourth child, the hospital said.
He attended Princeton University, where he studied philosophy; earned his medical degree at Yale University School of Medicine; and served residencies at Duke University Medical Center and the Brigham.
Davidson joined the staff at the Brigham in 2006 and became director of endovascular cardiac surgery.
“Michael Davidson was one of the kindest and best physicians and men that ever walked on this earth,” said Dr. Andrew C. Eisenhauer, an interventional cardiologist at the Brigham, who said he would describe himself as a mentor to Davidson except that “Mike was always the smartest man in the room.”
Dr. Pinak Shah, interim director of the Brigham’s cardiac catheterization laboratory, said Davidson took the unusual route of training as both a cardiovascular surgeon and an interventional cardiologist, the kind of doctor who treats heart problems without surgery, by threading a thin tube into the heart.
“He was a visionary,” Shah said. “He knew we were going to be taking care of very complex patients in a completely different manner than we have ever thought about doing.”
With Eisenhauer, Davidson developed a new “hybrid” program using techniques from surgery and interventional cardiology to replace heart valves by inserting them through catheters rather than incisions.
“He could break down any problem very quickly and think about clever ways of dealing with it,” Shah said. “It’s rare you find somebody who can do all that and still be a human being at the same time.”
Dr. Daniel C. Wiener, a thoracic surgeon, said he and Davidson shared a passion for music. Their band’s basement rehearsals every Sunday were so loud the doctors had to put their beepers where they could see them, the music drowning out any beeps.
Inevitably, a song would be interrupted by the beeper’s call. Once, Davidson surprised them all by suddenly playing the drums, a skill he’d quickly acquired when his daughter lost interest in her drum set.
“He loved his kids and would talk about them at all of our get-togethers,” Wiener said.
In addition to his wife and children, Davidson leaves his parents, Susan B. and Robert M. Davidson; a sister, Hillary Davidson; and his in-laws, Junilla and Sheldon Halperin. The funeral is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday at Temple Beth Elohim, 10 Bethel Road, Wellesley, with burial at The Beit Olam East Cemetery, in Wayland.
Wednesday was a day of mourning at the hospital. At 10 a.m., about 150 of Davidson’s colleagues gathered outside the main entrance, where the blue flag of the Brigham was lowered to half-staff while two members of the hospital security staff stood at attention. Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, the hospital’s president, led a memorial service.
Many of the mourners wore hospital scrubs, the clothes of their — and Davidson’s — profession, and were handed roses that they laid at the base of the flagpole. As the brief service ended, some wept, many exchanged hugs of comfort — and then all walked back into the hospital.
Private vigils were held inside the hospital at noon and 4 p.m. “It’s been really helpful to be just sharing memories and talking about how we feel,” Wiener said.