Pediatric neurosurgeon Tim George was one of those people driven to succeed in whatever their pursuit – even taking their hobbies to another level. He was competing in an auto endurance race at Sebring International Raceway in Florida when he died last month at 59.
“Once I started working with him, I was just in awe of this man,” Dr. Nilda Garcia, surgeon in chief for Dell Children’s Medical Center, told KUT. “He is an excellent – was an excellent – pediatric neurosurgeon, who not only was academically talented, surgically talented, a leader nationally in his field, but also one of the most compassionate human beings I’ve ever met.”
He was remembered by his colleagues Tuesday night at a special gathering.
George attended medical school at New York University and studied surgery at Yale. He came to Austin in 2006 after 10 years' mastering his craft at Duke Medical Center in Durham, N.C. And he was not just mastering surgical technique here; he helped open Dell Children’s neurosurgical department and taught at the University of Texas.
Garcia said George had a rare ability to connect with his patients.
“He would always tell me you have to take a step and look at the patient,” she said. “Look at what the patient is telling you. That’s how you’re going to figure out what the next step is.”
That sentiment was echoed by Nicole Hanover Higginbotham, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Dell.
“He was so interactive, so open, so compassionate. He always focused on the kid,” she said. “It would be so funny. He would ask the kid the question and the parent would try and answer the question and he would say, ‘No, Mom, hold on. Let them answer.' He would always talk to the child and ask the child how they were doing, how they were feeling. If they understood, he would explain things to the kids.”
It was this connection to his patients that led one of the most sought-after pediatric neurosurgeons in Austin to racing.
In 2006, Bill Dollahite's son Scott was badly hurt playing football for Cedar Park High School in Waco. Doctors told him Scott was paralyzed. The family decided to move him closer to home.
“We took about a three-hour ride in the worst weather in the world ... following an ambulance,” Dollahite said. In the middle of the night, the ambulance pulled into what was Brackenridge Hospital, "and here comes Dr. George.”
George was still new to Austin; Dollahite is not sure if he even had an office. Dell Children’s was under construction.
“Dr. George looked at him and goes, ‘You know, let’s not give up everything just yet. Let me take a look at this, because everything looks too perfect,’” Dollahite said. “Long story short, Scott went into Brackenridge quadriplegic. A couple of days later, he walked out. No ill effects after that. By the miracles that Dr. George did, he gave him his life back.”
Scott Dollahite is now a professional race car driver and helps run Driveway Austin Motorsports, the track his father opened 15 years ago.
“I got a call from his wife months later,” Bill Dollahite said. “She said, ‘Hey, I just don’t know what to give Tim for a birthday. I was thinking about getting him into racing school. He always said he wanted to do that.’ So, he became our student, and Scott became his instructor.”
That was just the beginning. George wanted to learn everything about racing.
Scott Dollahite says they had a special relationship.
"A lot of times he would come out and help blow the leaves off the track," he said.
“This became his break room from Dell Children’s,” Bill Dollahite said.
After he had gotten pretty good at racing, George would step in as an instructor.
"He’d grab a flag and wave people down and say, ‘Well, let me get in the car with you for a couple of laps,'" Bill Dollahite said. "It was just because he loved the sport, and he loved giving all the time.”
George and Scott Dollahite came in second in an endurance race in Miami this fall, and Dollahite added his technical expertise to George’s team in Sebring last month.
About 45 minutes after beginning his leg of the race in the team's prototype race car, George said he wasn’t feeling well and needed to stop. He made it back to the pit road, but not quite to his team. He was evacuated from the race to a hospital, where he later died.
Higginbotham said she'll remember him as a friend and the best teacher she ever had. She said it’s hard for patients’ families, but she remembers what he would tell his own patients.
“This is what he used to tell families: 'This is going to be like going on the world’s longest roller coaster ride, and you may not always see me ... but I’m going to have a seat – hold on – but I’m going to have a seat on that ride with you and I’m not getting off,’" she said. "And he meant it.”
He is survived by his wife, two sons and a grandson.