A memory indelibly etched in mind: Dr Sanjiv Bhatia (February 22, 1958 - May 24, 2018)
Correspondence Address: Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None DOI: 10.4103/0028-3886.236981
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away -- Sir Terence Pratchett
Death is inevitable, yet it is often hard to accept that a person, who till the other day enriched our lives with positivity, knowledge and vision, has ceased to be amongst us. And more so in the case of people who leave an indelible mark in the memories of those they come across. Their thoughts and deeds echo forever in the minds and they live on as a guiding light for others. My words cannot assuage the grief thrust upon us by Dr Sanjiv Bhatia's passing away. It is my noble duty to recollect his wonderful contributions that made him stand out in the profession that he loved, as well as his life.
Dr Sanjiv Bhatia was born on February 22, 1958 and raised in a Delhi-based family which always placed an emphasis on the importance of serving people. The lesson to serve others and be kind to all, imparted by his father, was evident throughout his career. After completing medical school from All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS, New Delhi, India) in 1980 (1976-1980), Dr. Bhatia completed his residency in neurosurgery from the same institute in 1986 (1981-1986) and served as an assistant professor between 1988-1992. He was the first 6 year MCh Neurosurgery candidate at AIIMS. His excellent academic and research skills won him the adulations of Professor PN Tandon and Prof AK Banerji at AIIMS, the two doyens of neurosurgery in India.
He completed a two-year fellowship programme in epilepsy (1990-1992) in the US. During this period, he focused his research on the role of magnetic resonance and positron emission tomographic imaging in the evaluation and surgical treatment of epilepsy. Upon completion of the research, Dr. Bhatia joined the Boston University School of Medicine in USA. Drawn to the United States as the land of opportunity, he took a clinical position at the Boston Veteran Affairs Hospital, Boston, USA, where he practiced general neurosurgery from 1997-2000. Wanting to practice in the US and get American Board of Neurological Surgery (ABNS) certification, he joined the University of Miami (UM) in 2000 as a neurosurgery resident.
He was a brilliant neurosurgeon and dedicated to his profession. He had joined as faculty in the University of Miami (UM) Miller School of Medicine in 2004 and had since then practised at both Jackson Memorial Holtz Children's Hospital and Nicklaus Children's Hospital (NCH). He completed fellowships in vascular and skull base surgery as well as pediatric neurosurgery before joining the UM faculty. At both the institutions, he focused his skills on the management of intractable epilepsy, brain tumors, vascular malformations, neuroendoscopy, pediatric brachial plexus injuries and congenital malformations of the central nervous system. He was recognized nationally and internationally for his expertise in pediatric epilepsy surgery. He was a reviewer for several journals and a regular contributor to the neurosurgical literature. He joined the faculty in 2004 and because of his extraordinary skills, clinical acumen, dedicated teaching and academic contributions, he was promoted to the rank of Clinical Professor of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics in 2016. He was serving as the Chief of the Department of Surgery and the Director of the Operating Room at Nicklaus Children Hospital, Miami, USA, at the time of his passing away.
Sanjiv Bhatia in the operating Room in Miami, Florida (USA)
Dr Bhatia left for his heavenly abode on May 24, 2018, creating a vacuum felt by hundreds of people who knew him and looked up to him for inspiration. His untimely demise has left his family, friends and the medical fraternity in a state of shock and grief.
Over the decades, Dr Sanjiv Bhatia had healed so many lives and touched so many hearts. Anyone who knew him could testify the positivity and warmth the neurosurgeon in him exuded. Dr. Bhatia's greatest gift was his humble, caring and compassionate persona. No matter how busy he was, he was calm and composed while dealing with his patients and hospital staff. He was at his happiest when a small child would want to sit on his lap or pose for a photograph with him.
He was a dedicated husband and father. He was married to Dr. Rita Bhatia – a distinguished and accomplished UM neuroradiologist. His eldest son, Ritwik Bhatia, and his daughter-in-law, Monisha Bhatia are both recent graduates from the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. His younger son, Shovan Bhatia has graduated from Ransom Everglades High School and will be attending the Georgia Institute of Technology this fall. Dr Bhatia relished his time with his family and was proud of his sons' successes. Wanting to stay fit, he would join Shovan on rigorous hikes at the Philmont Scout Ranch in the Rocky Mountains, as well as in playing tennis regularly.
From left to right: Sanjiv Bhatia, Ritwik and Shovan (sons), Rita Bhatia (wife)
From left to right: Sanjiv Bhatia, Monisha and Ritwik (daughter-in-law and son), Rita Bhatia (wife), Shovan (son) standing behind
The void left by Dr Sanjiv Bhatia's untimely death is deep and has been felt across the neurosurgical world. He was loved and cherished by all those who were fortunate enough to work with him, especially during his 18 years stint in Miami. Dr. Bhatia will be missed by many, including the children and families who relied on him for his caring and expertise.
I last met Dr Bhatia in November 2016 during my visit to his department as a visiting faculty. After a lecture there, he took me out for a visit to his workplace - Nicklaus Children Hospital in Miami, USA. A gentleman to the core, he made me feel so much at ease with his team and himself. He also took pride in introducing me to his colleagues and team as, “meet Dr Deepak. He is from the neurosurgery department of my alma mater, AIIMS.” Dr. Bhatia was even set to visit AIIMS, Delhi, for the Indian Society for Pediatric Neurosurgery annual meeting in February next year. He was very happy to observe the progress of the pediatric neurosurgery services at AIIMS. Having shared an intimate bond with Dr Bhatia, I can imagine him pushing all of us, including me, to continue furthering medical innovations in the paediatric neurosurgery subspecialty for the welfare of society - something he really cared about.
I once sent him a video of now-forgotten Indian outdoor sports (Pithu, Kancha, Gilli Danda, Kho-kho, Lattoo, Stapoo, Chor Sipahi, to name a few). Overwhelmed with nostalgia, he replied: “Thanks for sharing. It brought tears of joy in my eyes.” This reflected his attachment to his roots and the motherland.
Sanjiv Bhatia in a pensive mood while reading
As a teacher and mentor, Dr Bhatia was revered by his students. Neurosurgeons can sometimes be bossy and hubristic, but he was the opposite. He was humble and empathetic, and he paused to help even when he was extremely busy. Kindness was his superpower. He was a father figure and a reliable friend to many of his students, who often talk about how they have never heard him raise his voice or being genuinely angry. Resident doctors often make mistakes, but instead of reprimanding them, Dr Bhatia would motivate them to learn and improve. He would often defuse a stressful situation with his wide smile. You could always call him and be assured that a calm and reasonable voice would greet you and cheer you up. In the end, you learnt much more than surgical skills from this master neurosurgeon -- you learnt to be a good human being.
I am enclosing herewith the note from Dr AK Banerji [Emeritus Professor Neurosurgery, AIIMS] for Dr Sanjiv Bhatia:
In the mid-seventies, when Sanjiv joined AIIMS, it was a small place. The faculty and their children often became friends with the newly-inducted MBBS students. My first interaction with him was in his early years. He had a health problem and his father had come to seek my opinion. One of my earliest recollections is him asking me how good neurosurgery was as a subject. As he had then just started his clinical semester, I thought that he was very precocious in asking this question. I remember telling him that focusing on neurosurgery as a subject required very hard work, and unless one has an inner calling and commitment, it is not worth pursuing. He did a one-month elective posting with us in neurosurgery as an intern and said that he had decided to pursue neurosurgery as his subject of choice.
About the time when he finished his internship, we had got an approval for starting a 6-year direct MCh neurosurgery course at the institute with great difficulty. As far as I can recollect, he was the only applicant, and was, of course, selected. For the next six years, he worked hard, and within a year of his completing his MCh course, he was inducted in the faculty of neurosurgery at AIIMS. Sanjiv was a patient and a dedicated teacher, popular with the residents. He became a good clinician and an accomplished surgeon.
We, in the department, had plans for developing an epilepsy surgery program and Sanjiv was sent for training at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Bethesda, USA. Soon after his return, he came to meet me and told about his intention to leave AIIMS and go to USA. I was upset with him for this decision of his.
Time heals everything. Slowly Sanjiv started sending greeting cards and letters. He would come to see us on occasional home visits. It took time to reach status quo ante, but it did. He was a great favourite of my wife and daughter. Periodic visits to India reinforced the bonds. He started to come for Indian Society of Pediatric Neurosurgery meetings as he had chosen Pediatric Neurosurgery sub-speciality, in which he was rapidly making a mark internationally.
I am told he was much loved by his colleagues, patients and residents. When one of his fellows wrote about the two-block-long row of mourners standing patiently on a rainy day to pay their last homage, tears came to my eyes. His death shook me more than I expected.
May God bless his soul!
I am thankful to Dr. Sanjiv Bhatia's family, Drs. AK Banerji, AK Mahapatra from AIIMS Delhi, Drs. Ross Bullock, John Ragheb, Allan D. Levi, Faiz U. Ahmed from the University of Miami, Florida, USA, and the entire AIIMS family for the valuable inputs provided by them in this article.