Brilliant. Kind. Loyal. Patient. Storyteller. These are just a few words that come to mind when describing Andrew Garber, a dedicated driven physician who passed away on April 17, 2017. He was a compassionate person, and despite not being his employee for several years, he respected my midwifery practice and continued to consult on my cases until his passing. I met him in 2003 and worked in both his New York City and New Jersey practices through 2014. He was my collaborating and consulting back-up physician and friend. I would like to share the legacy left behind from an extraordinary man who believed in midwifery and "doing right by the patient."
He taught me everything I needed to know about the management of high-risk pregnancies and low-risk pregnancies that would become high-risk. He also guided me in navigating the hospital system as I had come from a home-birth midwifery practice. I felt as though I was obtaining a mini-PhD in obstetrics and perinatology while working with him and co-managing his patients. Despite me thanking him over the years, he insisted he was "simply encouraging me."
Whenever I had a pressing question at any hour of the day or night - he picked up my call. He pushed me beyond what I ever imagined I could do in his busy practices - running between three hospitals in the day. I delivered hundreds of Dr. Garber’s patients and he was proud to tell me that he had the lowest cesarean section rate in northern New Jersey since I joined his practice. Dr. Garber would often refer to the European model of obstetrics where midwives ran the L&D floors and called in the doctors only when needed. He would say, “Outcomes are better when doctors leave low-risk women to the midwives.” He strongly believed that our country’s high cesarean section rates reflected the need for urgent change. While a private person, he did have an adventurous spirit in and out of the office. I am sure he would not mind me sharing that he attended a home water-birth with me when we first started working together.
Dr. Garber’s parents, Ella and Michael Garber, were Polish immigrants and both survivors of the Holocaust. When they landed in New York City, Andrew was a young boy and spent a lot of time with his physician parents working in hospital mailrooms, labs, hallways, lunchrooms and sleeping in physician on-call rooms. Hospital life, helping and healing people was in his DNA. He would go to medical school and become an exceptionally gifted OB/GYN and Perinatologist.
He gave his patients generous amounts of time, in many ways like a midwife would - nurturing and encouraging them to ask questions. He was professional and respectful of his clients no matter what their socio-economic status happened to be. He delivered many thousands of babies, read thousands upon thousands of fetal ultrasounds and had enjoyed being involved in various obstetric and genetic research studies. Diplomas of medical accomplishment and notoriety have hung in his many offices and hospital Perinatal Units which he created including a Labor & Delivery Wing.
He made his clients both new and established feel at home. How did he do it? With his infectious smile and by being an inspirational storyteller. Whichever state the woman was from, he would find a pertinent thread to weave into their conversation. He could relate a story for anything a patient would bring up. He had a true gift.
His clients appreciated his positive energy and felt his commitment to educate them. He would often say that as practitioners, "We have to do the right thing by the patient," even if it was something they may not have wanted to hear. If a fetus had a challenging medical issue, he was calm and kept in close contact with the family, physicians or midwives managing the case. Dr. Garber had an uncanny way whether you were a doctor, midwife or patient seeking his expertise - of ensuring you felt at ease when challenges arose. He was supportive in helping many in their careers. He had great advice if you were his resident, colleague or employee. He employees in both his New York and New Jersey offices were loyal to him.
His workdays were often long during the years I worked with him - working in two or three hospitals simultaneously not to mention driving into New York City for office hours once or twice a week. In between his busy day he would return calls and was most selfless with his time. He was a mentor, professor, business owner and friend to many. He was also famous for giving away to both his friends and employees - his extra box seats at U.S. Open tournaments and sporting events.
He was a most devoted father to his children and despite his responsibilities as a physician, I recall in the operating room from behind his mask during the wee hours of the morning, he would talk about needing to get home in time to take them to school. This man showed up countless times to help start and expand families 24/7. Patients sought him out for his excellent surgical skills, bedside manner and vast high-risk pregnancy experience. While operating I often heard him say he was “fixing the mess her other doctor made.” Rather than close her up quickly to get out of the hospital, he would carefully remove scar tissue and it would take him longer but he did as he insisted - do "right by the patient."
I would come to understand that his love of obstetrics came from his unique working relationship with his mother Ella. His devotion to her OB/GYN practice in New York City was a true inspiration and he was extremely proud of her. She had been a midwife in Poland, was the first woman to graduate Brown in medicine and taught him surgical skills as his attending. In this last year he was winding down to monthly office hours with plans to finally close her office this summer.
This physician set the bar high for me with his tireless unconditional work ethic, while maintaining high standards in just about everything he put his hands on. But now I know God has another plan for him because he has done extraordinary service - touching so many people’s lives all over the country and the world. While he didn’t like people to make a big deal about him, he did appreciate a good story. And he appreciated my love of writing. He was a dear forever friend to me in sharing his wisdom and kindness. I am certain that there will be many occasions where I will ask myself, “How would Andrew tackle this case?" I will feel confident that I have the skills to find the answer.