On May 18, New York University’s class of 2022 celebrated its long-awaited graduation. Among the triumphant recipients, one stood out as particularly resilient. At the start of his second year in medical school, David Jevotovsky sustained a traumatic brain injury in a biking accident. He spent a year in intense recovery –relearning to walk, speak, and study – so that he could return to the classroom and eventually complete his education. Almost five year later, Jevotovsky’s success manifests in two degrees – an MD from NYU Grossman School of Medicine, and an MBA from NYU Stern School of Business. He shared the story of his journey with Our Town:
September 2017: It was a crisp and clear day, the type of autumn weather that beckons Manhattanites outside before the seasons turn wintry and hostile. After two weeks of revising material for his most recent test, David Jevotovsky could finally breathe a sigh of relief. He was accustomed to the coursework cycle at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine – grind for a couple of weeks, sit the exam, enjoy a brief break from the books, and then start the next module.
It was a special day, and so would be the bike route that then-23-year-old Jevotovsky was gearing up to ride. He planned to pedal across the city, down the west side, and then loop back to his place near the East River. On the bike, he felt invincible – no need for a helmet or worries – just Jevotovsky, the peace of a finished anatomy module, and what looked to be a 10-mile ride ahead of him. He was almost at the Hudson River when a car’s impact cut short his ride, his academic year, and nearly his life.
Jevotovsky woke up in the ICU at Bellevue Hospital, a month’s worth of memories lost but his life sustained. Weeks earlier, NYU Langone neurosurgeon Dr. Dimitris Placantonakis had performed an emergency craniotomy to evacuate an epidural hematoma in Jevotovsky’s brain. For over two weeks, he was in a medically induced coma, intubated, with an intracranial pressure monitor inside his head to survey any brain swelling that could require additional neurosurgery.
For his entire month in the ICU, Jevotovsky was in the company of his mother Daphne Futerman, who never left his bedside, and his father Ira Jevotovsky, whose unwavering confidence in his son’s full recovery proved legitimate.
The post-coma days were foggy, but as he regained awareness, Jevotovsky says his foremost feeling was gratitude.
“Waking up to just a room of 20 people that I know and love was so comforting and made it somewhat easy as well. And I’m very lucky for that.” Along with his parents and extended family that flew out from Rochester, Jevotovsky says his medical school friends came every day to see him and study in the ICU waiting room.
When Jevotovsky was discharged from Bellevue, he headed home to Rochester for an inpatient program at the Golisano Restorative Neurology & Rehabilitation Center. He spent each day in intensive physical, occupational and speech therapy. “I loved all of the people that helped me along the way,” he says. Jevotovsky’s cognitive skills came back easily, thanks to youthful neuroplasticity, and his physical ability followed quickly.
The “phenomenal” rehab team that guided the trajectory of his health also shaped his medical career. Before the accident, the young med student hoped to go into surgery, but after the accident, a surgeon’s particularly demanding schedule felt less appealing (though no less admirable). Jevotovsky hopes to have more personal time during his career, to enjoy time with friends and family.
Just prior to his first rotation year, NYU Grossman Dean of Students Dr. Linda Tewksbury suggested Jevotovsky start with a rehab elective. He had always been fascinated by neuromusculoskeletal issues, and his own journey granted him a deeper level of understanding for physiatry. “I could understand the patient a little bit more,” he says. “Maybe add a different layer of care.”
By adding an MBA to his degree, Jevotovsky hopes to improve patient care in public hospitals like Bellevue.
During his recovery, Jevotovsky started to work with LoveYourBrain, an organization started by snowboarder Kevin Pearce, who survived a traumatic brain injury in 2009. Jevotovsky even ran the New York Marathon alongside his uncle in the name of the foundation. If you ask his mother, Jevotovsky’s brain injury spiked his empathy.
One thing Jevotovsky has learned (besides always bike with a helmet on): Everything is not what it seems. This may sound obvious, but Jevotovsky experienced its profundity in the many stages of his recovery, a process he says is never-ending.
“Immediately after the accident, I was a little emotionally labile, as we say in medicine ... a lot of ups and downs. Of course, there was a real reason behind that,” he says. “I think that that applies to anyone that you interact with in the world.”
Physically, Jevotovsky carries this message with him every day. “If you walk around and see me from the front, I look like everyone else, but from the back, I have a gigantic scar,” he explains. “You may have some impression of someone, but there might be so many layers underneath that.”
May 2022: David Jevotovsky can’t figure out how his graduation cap is supposed to fit over his head. If it’s too low, he says, it looks nerdy. Too high, everyone agrees, and it looks like a chef’s hat. Standing in the warm, pre-summer breeze on the corner of 87th and Park Avenue, the NYU Grossman grad glows in his purple robes.
His mother wears a grin that hasn’t left her face since Jevotovsky emerged in his ceremonial garb. “He’s an extremely self-motivated person,” she says. “And the accident never took that away.”
Between playful jeers about his grandiose garb, Ira and Daphne revel in their son’s achievements.
“Today is the day that we allow ourselves to let go of our role as his caretaker,” wrote Ira in a Facebook post earlier that day. “And watch as he now becomes the professional caretaker of others, as Dr. David Jevotovsky.”