Dr. Neil Novin, who had been chief of surgery at Harbor Hospital and was a prolific contributor to medical journals, died Sept. 16 from renal failure at Gilchrist Center in Towson. The longtime Pikesville resident was 88.
“Neil was very old-school and hands-on,” said Dr. Jeffrey D. Gaber, a Baltimore internist and Pikesville resident. “He was a very prominent general surgeon who had a subspecialty as a vascular surgeon. He was the go-to doctor.”
The son of Edward Novin, a postal worker, and Mary Solowich Novin, a homemaker, Neil Novin was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., and graduated from Lafayette High School.
“In those days, we all came from extremely humble beginnings, and we thought everyone else lived like us,” said Sidney “Tishy” Silverman, a boyhood friend. “Neil’s father worked in the post office and his mother cleaned houses so he could go to school. Neil had ambition and pulled himself up by choosing to become a vascular surgeon.”
He received a bachelor’s degree in 1951 from New York University, obtained a medical degree from the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center in 1955, and completed an internship in 1956 at the University of Maryland Medical School.
From 1955 to 1959 he served in the Air Force, including a stint as chief of professional services at the 18th Tactical Hospital at Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, from 1956 to 1957.
Discharged from the Air Force with the rank of major, he completed a four-year residency in surgery in 1963 at the University of Maryland Medical School, and from 1965 to 1971 was an instructor in anatomy and surgery at the school.
From 1966 to 1988, Dr. Novin was director of surgery at then-South Baltimore General Hospital, now Harbor Hospital. He had been coordinator of surgical education at the hospital and chaired its medical staff from 1975 to 1977.
He was also a consultant in surgery at Sinai Hospital for nearly 40 years, and was an attending physician at the University of Maryland Medical Center, University of Maryland Medical Center Midtown Campus and Franklin Square Medical Center. He also worked at Northwest Hospital, Greater Baltimore Medical Center, University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center and Mercy Medical Center.
In the mid-1980s, he had neck surgery and arthritis, “which left him unable to use his left thumb or work as a surgeon,” according to Dr. Gaber. He then entered private practice, joining the staff of Drs. Brager & Gaber LLC in Lutherville as a surgical consultant and doing independent medical evaluations.
He continued seeing patients with Dr. Jeffrey D. Gaber & Associates PA in downtown Baltimore.
“He stayed with me until 2015, and was a big part of our practice and lives. He was part of our extended family,” Dr. Gaber said. “He was very good with patients. [He] could be blunt and abrupt at times, but took the time to get to know them. That’s how surgeons are, they fix things, and it’s onto the next case.”
Sarah J. Meeker, a nursing assistant in Dr. Gaber’s practice, described Dr. Novin as “strong in spirit and gentle in delivery.”
“He was staunch-hearted and would say ‘suck it up’ when things got difficult,” said Ms. Meeker, a Sudbrook Park resident. “It was an honor to work with him.”
“Whenever I asked Neil something, he’d say, ‘It wasn’t me. I wasn’t there. I was out of town.’ He must have said that a thousand times,” Dr. Gaber recalled with a laugh.
An avid tennis player, Dr. Novin decided in 1999 to have his hip replaced. Several days after surgery, the hip became severely infected with Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a nasty antibiotic-resistant bacteria that resulted in complications and many additional operations.
“The bacteria can lie dormant for years and then flare unexpectedly,” reported The Baltimore Sun in a 2006 article about Dr. Novin’s battle. “MRSA is particularly hard to track and eradicate because many people harbor it without symptoms. Often it is only after it gets into a wound that it wreaks havoc.”
“He eventually had 14 more surgeries,” said Dolores Rocklin, his former wife and a Lutherville resident.
He eventually had to give up tennis.
Dr. Novin penned numerous articles that were published by the Maryland State Medical Journal, The American Surgeon and Current Hepatology. His professional memberships included being a diplomat of the American Board of Surgery and a fellow of the American College of Surgeons. He was a member of the Baltimore Academy of Surgery, and held various offices including president from 1981 to 1983.
He was also a founding member in 1972 of the American Trauma Society, a consultant to the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medicine, councilor to the Maryland Chapter of the American College of Surgeons and vice chairman of the Health Care Standards Committee of the Maryland Foundation for Medical Care.
Other memberships included the Baltimore City Medical Society and the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland.
Dr. Novin retired in 2015, and resided recently at Brightview Assisted Living in Lutherville. He was a Baltimore Ravens fan, and also enjoyed doing crossword puzzles and attending the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the theater.
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“He was a very cultured man who liked listening to opera and classical music,” Dr. Gaber said.
“When we were growing up he played sports and, of course, he was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan. Then he became a traitor and an Orioles fan after moving to Baltimore,” Mr. Silverman said with a laugh.
“He loved telling the story that he saw Jackie Robinson steal home at Ebbets Field,” Dr. Gaber said. “Well, at least he said he was there.”
A memorial service for Dr. Novin will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at Sol Levinson & Bros., 8900 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville.
He is survived by a son, Michael Novin of New York City; a daughter, Helene Strumeyer of Passaic, N.J.; and three grandchildren. An earlier marriage to the former Ellen Rachel Landay ended in divorce.