As a 6-year-old, Michael Davidson knew that he wanted to fix people’s hearts for a living. At his funeral Friday, a standing-room only crowd of brokenhearted family members, friends and colleagues gathered to remember his life.
“My heart is broken,” Davidson’s mother, Susan Davidson, said as she stood over his casket fighting back tears, “and only Michael can fix it.”
Davidson, 44, died late Tuesday night after being shot twice while at work at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He left behind his parents, his sister, his wife Terri Halperin and their three children. Their fourth child together, a third daughter, is due in April.
By all accounts Friday, Davidson was a renaissance man. Shortly before his death a repairman couldn’t figure out how to fix the fridge at his Wellesley home, his widow recalled, so he took the appliance completely apart and fixed it himself.
He would take his daughters camping in their backyard or help them catch frogs, and loved to go fly-fishing with his father and friends. He was a masterful cook and a gifted musician. He took it upon himself to learn how to fly glider planes while in college, and he accomplished just about everything else he ever set out to do, his family members said.
“He didn’t just do things, he excelled at everything he did,” his father, Bob Davidson, said. “When he was young he wanted to follow in my footsteps; but where I walked, he ran.”
To his colleagues, Davidson was an innovator and, above all, he was dedicated to his patients.
“There aren’t many people who could say, ‘I’ve wanted to be a cardiac surgeon since I was six years old,’” said Michael Zinner, chairman of surgery at Brigham and Women’s. “I lost one of my boys on Tuesday and it’s been very hard since.”
Davidson was open to learning anything. Andy Eisenhauer, a Brigham and Women’s cardiologist and friend, compared him to the “Mikey” character from the old Life cereal commercials. “Give it to Mikey,” Eisenhauer recalled he and his colleagues saying on more than one occasion. “He’ll try anything.”
His patients and their families were his highest priority when he wasn’t with his own family, Eisenhauer said. He added, “He carried the burden of any outcome that wasn’t perfect.”
Davidson could always find a way to connect with people, he added, and had certain mannerisms and quirks that made him unique—he cited specifically his choice to eschew a rugged SUV in favor of the more economical Nissan Versa on a fishing trip.
“Surgeons are not known for their bedside manner,” Halperin said of her late husband, who would lie in bed at night and think about his patients, “but Michael had it in spades.”
The loss of her husband was made all the more difficult by the fact that it was a former patient’s son who pulled the trigger, Halperin said.
According to Halperin, the two of them met at Duke University in 1999 and were married for the first time two years later after he transferred his medical residency to Brigham and Women’s so that they could stay together.
Things got rocky, she recalled, and for two years they split up before realizing the mistake they’d made. They were re-married five years ago at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley—the same building where his funeral was held Friday—with their two daughters by their side.
“He was in a place in his personal and professional life that was really just phenomenal,” said Ralph Bolman, a fellow cardiac surgeon at Brigham and Women’s, “[It was] a place where a lot of people never really get.”
As he tried since Davidson’s death on Tuesday night to come up with the best way to convey his memory of him, Eisenhauer—the friend and mentor—thought of another television commercial that he felt summed up his feelings succinctly.
“I want to be like Mike,” he said, “and you should too.”