Northwell honors heart surgeon who died in September plane crash

Teri West
Guests at a Nov. 9 memorial service for Dr. L. Michael Graver at North Shore University Hospital placed lights on a table with Graver's framed white coat. (Photo by Teri West)

Dr. L. Michael Graver would often describe his heart operations as “magic,” so much so that his operating room earned the nickname, “the magic kingdom,” his colleagues said.

Friday morning, those colleagues filled an auditorium at North Shore University Hospital to standing room capacity to honor Graver’s life nearly two months after he and his wife Jodi Cohen died in a Massachusetts plane crash.

Graver and Cohen lived in Manhasset and were the only two aboard Graver’s plane on Sept. 15.

Graver was North Shore University Hospital’s chief of adult cardiac surgery. He earned state recognition for his low patient mortality rate.

His operating room at North Shore now has a plaque officially designating it “Dr. L. Michael Graver’s ‘Magic Kingdom.’”

Graver’s son, Adam Graver, traveled with his wife Puneet Bhullar from Washington to attend the service.

At the end, he thanked the attendees for being his father’s “second family.”

“I’m so grateful that he had all of you to share his life with,” Adam Graver said.

Graver’s colleague’s described him as a funny, brilliant, Einstein-loving doctor.

Dr. Avneet Singh, director of interventional cardiology at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, recalled a time that he called Graver to help with an emergency during an operation.

Graver was not on-call but rushed over and performed chest compressions and surgery, Singh said.

Afterward, Singh told Graver that he saved the patient’s life.

“I said, ‘You are awesome,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, I’m really awesome. I’m really awesome at chest compressions, and I’m really glad I did it and not you,’” Singh said as the service’s attendees laughed. “So that’s how he was, and he was humble and proud at the same time.”

Northwell doctors also emphasized Graver’s love for flying.

Dr. Stanley Katz, chair of cardiology at Peconic Bay Medical Center, said he and Graver were part of a group that would fly two to three weekends every month. They would annually attend the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture air show in Wisconsin.

“Since September, flying is not quite the same,” Katz said.

Rabbi Hillel Fox, an associate chaplain at North Shore University Hospital, said Graver “had the gift of making something complicated look easy.”

“When asked when he planned to retire, Dr. Graver responded, ‘When I find something else that I can do better,’” Fox said.

Graver’s legacy lives on both through his son and Bhullar as well as the countless people he trained in medicine, said Dr. Robert Palazzo, an attending surgeon of cardiovascular and thoracic surgery.

“You guys, all of you, are his legacy,” Palazzo told the crowded room. “This is how he will live on and we owe it to him to continue to strive to be the best people that we can be.”

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