Our dear friend and colleague, Dr. Thomas Graboys, passed away in January 2015. This special edition of our newsletter shares the lasting impression he left on the Lown Group, his friends and colleagues, and most importantly, his patients.
Dr. Thomas Graboys served as the director of the Lown Cardiovascular Group for 30 years and throughout that entire time he was an integral member of our team.
At the height of his career in the 1990s, Dr. Graboys, alongside Dr. Lown, was practicing a non-invasive model of care during a time when there was a fiscal incentive to push procedure-driven cardiology. His standards for compassionate, patient-centered care was a much-needed voice in a rapidly evolving field of complex and impersonal technology. It was – and continues to be – unusual to meet someone like this: an accomplished physician with such a humanitarian stance.
“When I met him in 1993, my first impression was that he was not only an amazing physician, but also – and more impressively – an incredible human,” said Dr. Brian Bilchik.
Driven by his motive to do the right thing for his patients, Dr. Graboys was an ardent advocate for them at every turn. He would always find the time to listen to his patients, sitting next to them at hospital, fluffing their pillow, making them feel comfortable. He knew every little, intricate detail about his patients’ lives and that ultimately led to better outcomes. As one could imagine, he was loved by his patients.
“My brother was a healer, not simply someone who treats,” said George Graboys, Dr. Graboy’s brother. “He had a rare understanding of the human condition. After a patient exam, he would sit with him/her and attempt to relieve the stress. Fearful became hopeful, discouragement became encouragement, and they were always accompanied by the dazzling smile and his own sense of humor that alleviated any distress.”
A Life of Accomplishments
Dr. Graboys’ other professional accomplishments are of little surprise for an individual of his energy, intellect, and commitment. He had extensive responsibilities for both the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology. He consulted for both National Institutes of Health and the United States Senate. He was a member of the Cardiovascular and Renal Drug Advisory Committee for the FDA, offering guidance on national pharmaceutical policies.
Dr. Graboys served on the Advisory Board Member for Physicians for Social Responsibility as well as the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985.
On top of all this, Dr. Graboys personally supervised the professional development of more than 100 national and international cardiologists and he published more than 150 research articles. Driven by his passion as an educator, Dr. Graboys was Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and served as co-chair of the School’s Admissions Committee.
“But that is not the Tom I know,” said Dr. Gilbert Mudge. “And certainly not the Tom who I believe to be the essence of medicine.”
The Essence of Medicine
Dr. Gilbert Mudge shared these following words at Dr. Graboys’ funeral.
Many individuals – both patients and practitioners – have long thought Dr. Graboys was the essence of medicine. But what is that? Is it patient care? Research? If you asked ten doctors you would get ten different answers. We need to look at this question from the patient’s perspective to appreciate why Dr. Graboys represents the pinnacle of medical care.
To do that, we have to go back 52 years to read the very last poem Robert Frost ever wrote. It is practically unknown. At age 89, his health had deteriorated and he was admitted to the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital. His wife passed away 25 years before and only two of his six children were still alive – he was alone in the world and dying.
The St. Petersburg Times wrote: “On her last day as the poet’s nurse, Frost asked Miss Forbes for a scrap of paper, borrowed her pen, wrote and then gave her the paper.” It read:
I met you on a cloudy dark day and when you smiled
and spoke my room was filled with sunshine
The way you smiled at me has given my heart
a change of mood
and saved some part of the day I had rued.
This poem represents the essence of medicine, to understand, to delay, yes, but also to comfort, to console our inevitable fate. This is Dr. Thomas Graboys – to understand, to delay, to comfort, to console. And when he became the patient, he provided us with the sunshine and saved some part of that day he knew was coming.
My more precious memories are those more recent years, during Tom’s decline. Two or three times a year we had dinner at his favorite restaurant. We were couched in quite private conversations, shielding out the noise and commotion of the usual restaurant chatter. Ours was a gentle conversation, we knew the future. Tom’s life had been won and we enjoyed the glow together.
Dr. Graboys stepped down from the Lown Group in 2007 after battling Parkinson’s disease and dementia for several years. True to his character, the following year he published Life in the Balance, chronicling his move from physician to patient and offering hope in the compassionate, humanitarian way that only he could.
“The book was but one vehicle,” said George Graboys. “He published articles, taught lectures, and gave interviews as well. He allowed himself to be an example of a victim of the disease to better educate students and the public. Even as it became difficult for him, he carried on teaching and healing in his own way.”
This article includes contributions from Dr. Gilbert Mudge, George Graboys, and the Lown Group doctors.