To his loved ones and patients, Miami Beach doctor Gregory Michael will be remembered as a “pure soul” and “gentle person” who enjoyed fishing and playing guitar.
The 56-year-old obstetrician-gynecologist, who died Sunday about two weeks after he received a COVID-19 vaccine, is said to have helped “grow Miami one baby at a time,” delivering hundreds of healthy children into the world.
“He almost felt like a TV doctor,” said Carmen Costomiris, a patient of 10 years whose son Michael delivered in 2013. “Everybody loved him.”
Michael ran his own private practice at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach for 12 years, according to his website. The Miami native also worked as a clinical instructor and faculty member for the physician assistant program at Barry University and Miami Dade College.
The Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner’s Office is investigating Michael’s death in conjunction with the Florida Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Pfizer, the manufacturer of the vaccine Michael received Dec. 18, said Michael died of a “highly unusual clinical case of severe thrombocytopenia, a condition that decreases the body’s ability to clot blood and stop internal bleeding.”
“We are actively investigating this case, but we don’t believe at this time that there is any direct connection to the vaccine,” a company spokesman said in an email.
The Medical Examiner’s Office, which conducted an autopsy Tuesday, has not ruled out a connection to the vaccine, said Darren Caprara, director of operations at the county office.
“The cause of death is pending the completion of studies being done by the medical examiner and the Centers for Disease Control,” Caprara said in an email. “The case is still under investigation, so nothing has been finalized.”
In a statement issued Wednesday, Mount Sinai said it could not “confirm or deny any information about any patient.”
“Mount Sinai follows all protocols, guidelines and regulations from all governing agencies and strictly adheres to patient privacy laws and HIPAA guidelines,” the statement reads. “To the extent that we are aware of an incident involving any patient, the appropriate agencies are contacted immediately and have our full cooperation.”
‘He was pro vaccine’
To Michael’s wife, Heidi Neckelmann, his death illustrates the risks — however unlikely — associated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Neckelmann, who has not responded to requests for comment from the Miami Herald, penned an anguished post on Facebook announcing her husband’s death and asking her friends to share the news widely, to make the public aware of possible side effects of the vaccine.
“He was a pro vaccine advocate that is why he got it himself,” Neckelmann wrote. “I believe that people should be aware that side effects can happen, that it is not good for everyone and in this case destroyed a beautiful life, a perfect family, and has affected so many people in the community.”
The post has been shared more than 20,000 times. An online fundraising page set up on Neckelmann’s behalf has so far raised over $20,000.
In her post, Neckelmann said Michael — whom she called “the love of my life” — was vaccinated at Mount Sinai on Dec. 18 and within three days he noticed bruising on his feet and hands, which prompted his hospitalization. Doctors at the hospital diagnosed him with Immune thrombocytopenia, or ITP, a blood disorder caused by an immune reaction, Neckelmann said. Michael died of a stroke after attempts to raise his platelet count were unsuccessful.
“He was a very healthy 56 year old, loved by everyone in the community, delivered hundreds of healthy babies and worked tireless through the pandemic,” Neckelmann wrote.
Researches have found evidence of an association between ITP and the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, according to a 2003 study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. It is an “uncommon condition” that rarely leads to health complications, the study says.
“The risk of ITP occurring within the 6 weeks after vaccination with MMR is significantly increased. However the attributable risk of ITP within 6 weeks after MMR vaccination remains low at 1 in 25,000 vaccinated children. Complications or long-term consequences of ITP in this age group are rare,” the researchers wrote.
More than 5 million have been vaccinated in U.S.
In a statement, a CDC spokeswoman said the agency is “aware of a reported death in Florida of an individual who received the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine about two weeks before passing away.”
“Our thoughts are with the family during this heartbreaking time,” she said.
More than 5 million people have received COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. to date, the spokeswoman said. The CDC and Food and Drug Administration are tasked with reviewing COVID vaccine safety and presenting their findings to safety experts, who are then required to provide an “independent review,” she added.
“CDC will evaluate the situation as more information becomes available and provide timely updates on what is known and any necessary actions,” she said. “It’s been a difficult year as each of us grapple with a worldwide pandemic. Use of COVID-19 vaccines is the next step in our efforts to protect Americans and reduce the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Pfizer spokesman said the company is “closely monitoring all adverse events in individuals receiving our vaccine.”
“It is important to note that serious adverse events, including deaths that are unrelated to the vaccine are unfortunately likely to occur at a similar rate as they would in the general population,” he said.