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Three hospitals ignored her gravely ill fiancé. Then a young doctor stepped in

The photo from David and Sarah Lubarsky's wedding announcement in Feb. 1984.
David Lubarsky
The photo from David and Sarah Lubarsky's wedding announcement in Feb. 1984.

This story is part of the My Unsung Hero series, from the Hidden Brain team. It features stories of people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else.

Forty years ago, Sarah Lubarsky came home from work and realized that her fiancé, David, was extremely ill. He was vomiting and slurring his words. So she grabbed her purse and took him by taxi to the nearest hospital, on the Lower East Side of New York City. The minutes slowly passed as they waited to see a doctor.

"We sat there for a couple of hours, and it was pretty clear that nobody was going to pay attention to him," Lubarsky recalled.

So they rushed to a second hospital, where Lubarsky says they were also ignored. But she knew something was very wrong with David. So they went to a third hospital. As she told the receptionist what was happening, she sensed the person wasn't going to treat their case with urgency.

Lubarsky was becoming frantic. After three failed attempts to get help, she had reached her limit. She started to make a scene in the lobby. That's when her unsung hero appeared.

"All of a sudden, this person comes up to me and says, 'How can I help you? What's going on here?'" Lubarsky said.

All she remembers is that the man was young, with dark hair and a white physician's coat. She explained what was happening to David, and that she was afraid it was serious.

"And he said, 'You know, I just got done with my neurological residency up at Lenox Hill Hospital. I'll take him in the back and look,'" she said. "Within two or three minutes, he came out and he said, 'You are absolutely right. Something is very seriously wrong.'"

He told them to go to Lenox Hill Hospital, and that he had called the doctor with whom he had done his residency.

"He'll be waiting for you," Lubarsky recalled him saying.

But Lubarsky began to cry, realizing she had no way of getting there, because she didn't have any more cash for a cab. This was the early 1980s, when cab drivers didn't accept credit cards.

"Without any hesitation, this young doc took a $20 bill out of his wallet, walked us out to the curb, shoved us into a cab, and said, 'Get up to Lenox Hill Hospital and they'll take care of you,'" Lubarsky said.

When they arrived, the doctor found that David had a serious condition called arteriovenous malformation — an abnormal tangle of blood vessels that can cause uncontrolled bleeding in the brain. He later had a 10-hour surgery, and eventually made a full recovery.

Lubarsky says that without the doctor's intervention, she and her fiancé would have likely gone back to their apartment, where she can't imagine what could have happened.

If Lubarsky could see her unsung hero today, she said she would probably start to cry.

"Then I would give him a big hug, and then I would repay him the $20 he so graciously gave me 40 years ago," she said.

Listen to All Things Considered each day here or on your local member station for more stories like this.

My Unsung Hero is also a podcast — new episodes are released every Tuesday. To share the story of your unsung hero with the Hidden Brain team, record a voice memo on your phone and send it to myunsunghero@hiddenbrain.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Brigid McCarthy
Laura Kwerel
[Copyright 2024 NPR]

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