“Four goals,” he said, chuckling. “Four goals and two assists.”
Those were his career scoring totals during his Princeton lacrosse career. Those numbers don’t begin to define what his experience as a Tiger was, of course. Not even close.
“He was a walk-on,” says Bill Tierney, who coached Garfein at Princeton. “He wasn’t from a great high school program, and he wasn’t a great player. But he was tough. He believed in himself. He was a great teammate. And he worked hard. What he’s done in his profession and what he’s doing right now come directly from all of that.”
What is he doing now?
Evan Garfein, a member of Tierney’s first NCAA championship team as a senior in 1992, is now Dr. Evan Garfein. He is a plastic surgeon in New York City who has put himself on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus, and he is seeing its devastating effects first-hand as he works in an emergency room in the Bronx.
What he’s seeing is not easy to handle.
“We’re at the break point of a wave,” he says, “and we’re about to get wet. I’ve become acutely aware of what’s going on at this hospital now and just how unbelievably infectious this virus is. People who are infected have a super high chance of infecting the people around them. And second is that people get really, really sick from this.”
Garfein’s normal routine as a plastic surgeon includes head and neck reconstructions as a result of cancers or traumas.
“All of that is on hold for now,” says Garfein, who went to Columbia Medical School. “Right now, our first deployment is to the ER in 12-hour shifts. One night shift. One day shift. We’re dividing up time among the plastic surgeons. That’s going to evolve to taking care of patients on the floor and in the ICU. That’s not something I’ve done in 20 years or so, but now it’s all hands on deck.”
To keep himself healthy he wears masks and eye protection with a lot of hand washing, and being, to use his words, extremely careful. For now, there’s no time to worry about anything other than the number of patients who come his way.
“I have a great deal of faith in the biomedical complex of this country to solve very complex problems,” he says. “We saw that with HIV. I always have hope that marshaling the resources of the United States pharmaceutical and medical industries will be very effective. With HIV, though, it happened over a period of years. Now we have to sort of do that in a period of weeks and months.”
To be part of it as closely as he is takes some pretty special fortitude. Where did he get his? Some of it is just innate. Some of it he learned it as a Princeton Tiger.
“Playing lacrosse at Princeton was a formative experience for me,” he says. “My closest friends, who are still like brothers to me, are all from that team. A lot of who I am can be traced back to those experiences and that time. I was never a guy who starred on the field, but I remember sitting in T’s office once and he said ‘you know, in 30 years, nobody is going to remember how much you played or didn’t play. It’s the experience. That’s what’s important. And he was correct. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything in the world.”
Garfein is a New York City native who went to Horace Mann, which is not a lacrosse powerhouse. When it came time to choose a college, though, he knew he wanted to keep playing the sport.