When a series of medical reverses of his own left Dr. James Gaviser unable to practice surgery, he could have retreated into bitterness.
Instead, say family and friends, Jamie Gaviser devoted himself to others.
“After his kidneys were removed, he was told he probably wouldn’t live past early middle age, perhaps age 45,” said his daughter, Sara Leslie, of Menlo Park, Calif.
“He decided to make his life worth something. He had time and kindness for everyone. He had a refurbished snowblower that was hard to get started, and when he did get it started he would just do the whole block. There was a woman he barely knew with Hodgkin’s and breast cancer, and he got her an appointment at Mayo [Clinic] and drove her there himself.”
Added Mort Naiman, director of the Jewish Community Foundation:
“This was a guy, a plastic surgeon who couldn’t practice anymore, in whom you never saw any bitterness but only a great warm smile who always made everyone around him feel good.”
Gaviser, of Minneapolis, died Feb. 9 at age 72, having far outlasted his predicted mortality with the aid of two transplanted kidneys, one of which was donated by his son, Michael.
He was a plastic surgeon living just off Lake of the Isles, but even when he practiced he was far from the image of the Beverly Hills cut-and-tuck artist, his daughter said.
“A third of his work was with patients with skin cancer,” she said, “and he did a lot of work with people with major deformities, helping them have normal lives.
“He hated if people called him ‘doctor.’ He told his rabbi, ‘Please don’t say ‘Doctor.’ I’m Jamie.’ ”
A surgeon’s son, Gaviser was about as complete a product of the University of Minnesota as possible. He was educated in schools associated with the U, from preschool — a lab school attached to campus — through the old Marshall-University High School and into his undergraduate and medical school years. He took his advanced training elsewhere, including Mayo Clinic.
His own medical reverses went on for years: kidney disease, transplants, multiple heart attacks, a brain abscess, a stroke, diabetes.
The understanding he developed for both sides of the medical world was the backdrop for his role in helping launch the Patient Partners program at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, which matches retired physicians and nurses with patients.
“Doctors who’d worked there were helping patients whose families weren’t present, or who didn’t know what questions to ask,” Leslie said. “They didn’t serve as doctors but provided comfort and support — suggesting what they might ask for, or options they might have, or just being there for them.”
Naiman, who became a good friend, was struck by two memories from Gaviser’s funeral. One was an Israeli doctor who “jumped on a plane and came here for it,” in honor of the work Gaviser had done in arranging for exchanges of medical expertise between Minnesota and a hospital in Israel. “Doctors here were volunteering to work there, and that was all thanks to Jamie.”
The other was a “haunting” remark from son Michael, of Scarsdale, N.Y., about the kidney he donated to his dad: “People said to me how wonderful to give your dad a kidney. But I didn’t do it for my dad, I did it for me. I wanted him with me a little longer.”
Besides his children, Gaviser is survived by Judy, his wife of 48 years; his sister, Marsha Tankenoff, of Minneapolis; and six grandchildren.