You Should Know The Name: Dr. John Boockvar

What makes someone extraordinary? Put most eloquently in the words of Edmund Hillary, “they decide to accomplish extraordinary things.” 

It’s 8pm and you just finished back to back surgeries, the last being a 6 hour surgery removing a neuroblastoma. You walk out of the OR only to head back into your office for another 3 hours to read up on the cases you have scheduled for tomorrow starting at 6am. It’s going to be another long, tough procedure as this patient’s tumor is quite aggressive. After having known the patient and their family for the last two years and seeing what they’ve gone through with unsuccessful chemotherapy treatments, you know you are the family’s last hope. You just remembered another thought— you have a research paper you need to review tonight before you send it out for peer-review and publication. Oh, and you haven’t eaten today. 

This may seem like an unimaginably difficult day at the office for any doctor, but for Dr. Boockvar, this is just a typical day in his life. In fact, it’s actually a mild day in his life.

A former University of Pennsylvania undergraduate who eventually matriculated into SUNY Downstate Medical School, Dr. Boockvar’s extraordinary talents were displayed before he had even begun to practice medicine. Boockvar was Valedictorian of his medical school class, graduating Summa Cum Laude with Distinction in Research. He then went on to train in neurosurgery as a resident at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. As a post-doctoral fellow, Dr. Boockvar furthered his education with a focus on brain tumor and stem cell biology at the University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center. Dr. Boockvar now serves as the Director of the Brain Tumor Center, Pituitary/Neuroendocrine Center and the Acoustic Neuroma Program of the Department of Neurological Surgery and the New York Head and Neck Institute at Lenox Hill and Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospitals. Along with this, Dr. Boockvar is a Professor of Neurological Surgery at the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra-Northwell.

Among Dr. Boockvar’s most significant accomplishments comes from his time as a researcher. Over the last decade, Dr. Boockvar has consistently published novel research based on the idea of getting drugs to successfully pass through the blood-brain barrier, leading to a more direct route to spot-treating brain tumors. His research has been so significant, the New York Times even wrote an article about it.

With all of that being said, it’s not the titles— although wildly impressive— that make Dr. Boockvar the humble hero that he is. In the new Netflix documentary Lenox Hill, you are taken on the emotional journey that is Dr. Boockvar’s life. The documentary is sure to create a stir within the viewer, causing them to ask themselves, “would I be able to handle this?”

You’re getting your patient notes ready and immediately realize you have already seen this patient. Years ago. In fact, you cured him. The man was in his later twenties with an aggressive brain tumor. With chemotherapy and surgery to remove the tumor, you were able to cure the patient. You walk into the room and his wife, who last time you met her was his girlfriend, is sitting next to him shaking. The patient reveals that he’s been having seizures for the last month or so. You assure him that you will get some scans and run some tests, but as of right now, there’s no need for him to fear the unknown. The next day you’re sent his test results. His brain tumor is back and worse than before. You schedule for him and his wife to come in that day so you can discuss his treatment options. What you didn’t know, and what no one could’ve known, is that while he thought he was cured, he got married and built a house with a white-picket fence, planning to soon start a family with the love of his life, all without realizing he had an aggressive brain tumor wrapping itself around his brain. You start with suggesting the more non-invasive treatment plans involving drugs and decide to see where this goes. In a few weeks time, his tumor worsens. You call the patient and his wife, telling them to come in soon, when it’s convenient for them. The next day you tell them the prognosis is not good. At the most, the patient has 6-12 months left, and surgery isn’t recommended due to the nature of the tumor.

This is a reality that Dr. Boockvar faces. The hard conversations are part of the job…

Your phone rings and it’s your long time friend, the man who actually recruited you to move to this hospital in the first place. He has a difficult procedure tomorrow on a young man with a low grade tumor. He knows how good you are and he wants to know if you can help him. You accept his offer. As you walk into the OR there’s a slight excitement in the room. It’s not often that one is fortunate enough to witness two world-renowned surgeons working side-by-side. Everyone huddles around the patient. Your friend and colleague tells everyone to close their eyes and to take a deep breath. For a second, time escapes you. Now it’s time to work. You take the scalpel and begin to slice. After 3 hours, you have removed the whole tumor. Every bit. Your friend looks at you and smiles as if to say “this is why I wanted you here”. You walk out of the OR and tell the family that you have fantastic news and that the whole tumor is gone.

These are the good conversations. And with Dr. Boockvar, there are a lot of them.

During one particular surgery-filled day, Dr. Boockvar hustles through the hallway’s double doors as they opening automatically, almost as if they know who’s walking through them. He calmly states, “I don’t even dare to imagine what I’m going to encounter on any given day when I arrive at work.” Maybe, just maybe, this explains why Dr. Boockvar is at Lenox Hill. Just a few years prior to working at Lenox Hill, Dr. Boockvar was earning his title as a world-renowned neurosurgeon at Cornell. So why Lenox Hill? Maybe it was the challenge. Maybe it was the clean-slate. Maybe it was the idea of building a department from the bottom up. Though those all had a possibility in playing a role in his thought process, one thing is for certain. Dr. Boockvar went to Lenox Hill so that he could make the greatest impact he could, on as many people as he could. 

As Dr. Boockvar scrubs in for a particularly difficult surgery, an adoring and enthusiastic OR team member can be heard in the background— “You’re about to see what greatness is all about.” 

Follow Dr. John Boockvar:

Instagram: @jboockvar

Twitter: @johnboockvar

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