Sanjiv Bhatia, MD: A Tribute

To his patients and their families, he was a guardian angel who saw them through their most difficult days with skill and compassion. To his colleagues he was a brilliant, yet humble collaborator who put the needs of others first. And to his neurosurgical fellowship students he was a patient and revered instructor who inspired them to follow in his remarkable footsteps.

Dr. Sanjiv Bhatia, neurosurgeon and Chief of the Department of Surgery at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, passed away in 2018 after a brief illness. His passing has left an enormous hole in the hearts of all who knew him.

Dr. Bhatia joined the hospital medical staff in 2004 and focused his skills on the management of intractable epilepsy, brain tumors, vascular malformations, spinal dysraphism, neuroendocopsy and surgical management of hydrocephalus. He was not only a nationally recognized neurosurgeon, but also contributed to medical knowledge through his research, publishing. and through instructing neurosurgery fellowship students.

Tributes to Dr. Bhatia abound on the internet. Some are from patients and their families, others from colleagues around the world. Here are a few that help create a portrait of this remarkable man:

From a Parent of a Patient:

Every step of the way, Dr. Bhatia was with us, calming, assuring, supportive. On the day of the surgery, 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.”

From Dr. Deepak Gupta, Department of Neurosurgery, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi India, former visiting faculty member of Nicklaus Children’s Hospital.

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 never heard him raise his voice… Dr. Bhatia would motivate them to learn and improve. He would often defuse a stressful situation with a wide smile… In the end, you learned much more than surgical skills from this master neurosurgeon – you learned to be a good human being.