In this coronavirus maelstrom, it’s easy to forget the individual people whose lives have been touched by the pandemic.
I met Jim Goodrich (right) when I was a medical student at Columbia and he was a neurosurgery resident. I shadowed him for a month, making rounds and going to the OR. He was a great guy—funny, hardworking, considerate. A real gentleman.
Rounds with him always took a bit longer than with the other residents, because he would always stop to entertain and play with the babies. He trained in pediatric neurosurgery, remained a friend, and became one of the leading pediatric neurosurgeons in the world. He was chief of pediatric neurosurgery at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx for three decades. He trained a couple of generations of students and residents, and treated tens of thousands of kids.
His specialty was reconstruction of the skulls of children born with horrendous skull deformities, and he pioneered the surgery of separation of craniopagus (Siamese) twins. Twins joined at the brain are particularly dangerous to separate — they commonly share blood vessels and have strokes immediately after separation. Jim, who was a superb and creative scientist as well as a world-class surgeon, realized that a gradual staged approach to separation, using a series of smaller operations over a year or two, was safer and more effective than the traditional approach of one big operation. It gave the children’s brains time to adjust to the circulatory changes, and prevented strokes.
He set the standard for successful separation of craniopagus twins joined at the skull, and he was the first neurosurgeon to do so safely and reliably.
It was only after I had known Jim for a while that I learned of his background. He was the heir of the Goodrich Tire fortune and was fabulously wealthy. He never revealed that to me and I wouldn’t have guessed it, except perhaps for his one indulgence. He collected old, original medical books and was a walking encyclopedia of medical history.
I learned that when Jim — from birth was one of the wealthiest men in New York City — was a teen, he joined the Marine Corps as a private and served a combat tour in Vietnam. Then he went to college and med school and trained in pediatric neurosurgery. He spent his life working 80-hour weeks, operating on poor kids in the Bronx.
Jim died Monday in New York City from coronavirus. I don’t know how he got it but I’d bet anything that he got it at work. He was loved by his colleagues—he was universally loved in the neurosurgical community and by his thousands of patients, and of course by his family.
Jim was everything a man should be. May God welcome him and bless him.