Bad doctors make big headlines, and deserve them, but you almost never read about the good ones. There are many in our community.
Orthopedic surgeon Michael Ravitch was one of the good ones. Ravitch died recently at age 74 and was remembered in a moving service Thursday morning at Palm on Boulder Highway.
I met “Doc Ravitch,” as he was known to patients and friends, late in his life. He was in his early 70s but looked older, was fond of natty hats and suspenders. He was small but spirited, experienced but not cynical, a hail fellow well met who had spent nearly four decades as a bone surgeon in Southern Nevada. He spent many years affiliated with St. Rose Dominican and Boulder City hospitals, where nurses called him, “the little guy with the big heart.”
If you broke a humerus or fractured a fibula from Henderson to Searchlight, chances are good Doc Ravitch set the bones. He successfully replaced enough knees and hips to fill a stadium.
Ravitch had retired from his successful medical practice, but was always available for a consultation and a kind word. He was, in brief, quite a character.
To pass him on the street you never would have guessed that the gentle fellow with the infectious laugh had spent a tour of duty with the Special Forces as a Green Beret field physician in Vietnam. He operated on the wounded in the worst of conditions half a world away from bucolic Boulder City, the place the Oberlin, Ohio, native and wife Donalene would call home for more than 40 years.
He was proud of his military service, but didn’t wear it on his sleeve. Patriotic tunes played at his funeral service and a U.S. Army honor guard presented the American flag to his widow, but his love of country ran deeper than braggadocio. Eulogist District Judge Mark Denton said Ravitch embodied an “unassuming generosity, love for others, sense of humor and intelligence.”
Getting to know Ravitch greatly influenced the medical career of the judge’s brother, Dr. Scott Denton, who recalled, “I’ve never been so relaxed an unintimidated when talking to a doctor, a surgeon no less, who lacked the arrogance and aloofness of so many others I have known.”
As a medical resident, Denton rounded with Ravitch and saw a master at work: not just in the profession of medicine, but in the art as well.
“It quickly became apparent to me that Michael was truly gifted, not only as a physician and surgeon, but as a human being,” Denton said. “He treated all of his patients, regardless of their station in life, as if they were his only concerns.”
Physician’s assistant Paul Morgan was impressed that Ravitch included his home phone number on his business card so that patients would always be able to reach him, and always had a friendly embrace for his elderly patients. After a long day in the operating room, Ravitch offered his friend Morgan a simple recipe for a successful life: “Treat patients the best that you can. Be kind, and always be good to your family because, at the end of the day, that is really what matters.”
Friends and family members heaped praise on the surgeon who wouldn’t have dreamed of doing that for himself. If the service had ended there, it would have been all anyone might want.
But then his patients, the ones he aided by replacing their knees and hips and repairing their deformities, began to stand in his honor. Women and men, young and old: All offered heart-warming testimonials to the professionalism and the gentle caring of Doc Ravitch.
They gave him an ovation by standing.
The unassuming bone surgeon, the little guy with the big heart, helped them walk again.
— John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. He can be reached at 702-383-0295 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.