Among those at the funeral of Dr. Michael Groll were children who could not have been conceived but for him. Their parents, whose infertility he had treated, wept for the doctor, who was shot through the heart.
“It’s still hard to believe he’s never coming back,” said Carol Carr, who had been Groll’s patient for two years and learned on the day of his funeral that she was pregnant.
“He never got a chance to find out about the pregnancy,” Carr said. “It was devastating.”
Five months after Groll was killed by burglars, patients and colleagues remain sad and bitter but are determined that the physician won’t be forgotten.
“There are a lot of little scars,” said Dr. Joel I. Polin, a friend and colleague. “You always know you have a scar. Sometimes it’s OK. Sometimes it hurts.”
On Staff Since 1972
Polin is chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Abington Memorial Hospital, a community teaching hospital where Groll, a reproductive endocrinologist, had been on the staff since 1972.
It is also the hospital where Groll was pronounced dead of a single gunshot wound in the heart on Jan. 1.
Groll and his wife, Mary, had decided to have a quiet New Year’s Eve--no parties, no noisemakers. They took two of their three children to an early showing of the movie “A Chorus Line” and were home by 10:30 p.m. By midnight, the lights were out and the family was asleep.
An hour and a half later, the 46-year-old fertility specialist was dead.
He was shot by one of two men who broke into the Grolls’ split-level home because it looked as if no one was home on New Year’s Eve, police said.
Two Men Charged
Two weeks later, two Philadelphia men were arrested and charged with Groll’s murder. Christopher Briggman, 24, and David Steward, 26, have been held without bail pending a trial scheduled for June 2.
The sorrow, the shock and the anger that filled the hospital on New Year’s Day soon spread to the community.
“Kind, gentle, it’s all true,” Polin said. “Michael Groll was an excellent person. He’s revered as a saint.” His medical skills had helped hundreds of couples conceive, Polin said.
“Lots of MDs are really great doctors. You have to look hard to find someone who cares,” Polin said. “He really, genuinely cared about people as people.”
For Carol Carr, drug and hormone treatments had failed to cure reproductive system problems.
Then, last August, Groll performed laser surgery on the 28-year-old woman. That was his speciality, laparoscopy, an extremely delicate microsurgery on pelvic organs that is often more successful than conventional fertility treatments.
‘Every Day Is Crucial’
“The ups and downs are overwhelming in fertility treatment,” she said. “You only have 12 chances a year to get pregnant. Every day is crucial.”
Groll urged Carr and her husband, Ronald, not to give up as the days turned to months.
“He would always reassure us,” Carol Carr said. “I would call; he’d always call back. He would say, ‘Stop right in and see me,’ with no appointment. It’s very unusual for any doctor to do that.”
Groll was born Feb. 10, 1939, in Czechoslovakia. His parents emigrated to the United States the next year to avoid the Nazis.
The family first lived in New York and moved to Cheltenham, a Philadelphia suburb, when Groll was 13. After Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, from which he graduated in 1964, he served his internship at Abington Memorial.
Taught at Colleges
Trained in gynecology, endocrinology and obstetrics, he opened a private practice in the hospital’s office building. He also taught at several medical colleges.
Groll and his wife had three children, Heather, 16, Tom, 13, and Brooke, 11. Tom was staying with friends the night his father was killed.
Abington police say two men, one carrying a .38-caliber handgun, smashed a first-floor window of the Groll house shortly after midnight. The burglar alarm had been broken for more than a year, officers said.
The men entered the couple’s second-floor bedroom, where Groll awoke and confronted them. One man fired twice, hitting the doctor once, police said.
The assailants took money and jewelry, including Mary Groll’s wedding ring, before fleeing, police said. Mary Groll and her daughters were not injured.
‘Safer Place Now’
Within weeks of Groll’s slaying, scores of volunteers had joined community patrol groups, and burglaries in the area are expected to drop as a result, Abington Police Chief William J. Kelly said.
“Abington is a safer place now than it was Jan. 1 of this year,” Kelly said. “That’s life; that’s reality; that’s one of life’s greatest ironies.”
The doctor’s legacy goes on elsewhere too.
Polin said hospital employees and the family had established the Michael Groll Fund. The fund will create in Groll’s honor an endowment for an annual lecture by fertility specialists.
“In that sense, he’s still here, teaching us,” Polin said.
Carol Carr and her husband expect their baby in September. She said the child’s middle name would be Michele or Michael, after the doctor.
“I want to thank him for this baby,” she said.