ORLANDO, Fla. — The irony of Dmitriy Nikitin’s death stunned friends and colleagues across the country.
After a career of helping save lives, Dr. Nikitin died at the hands of a disgruntled patient in a killing that remains as senseless as it is unexplained.
The patient, identified Friday as 53-year-old Nelson Flecha of Orange City, shot Nikitin in a parking garage at Florida Hospital’s main campus on Thursday evening. Detectives were still sorting through evidence to pinpoint a motive in the slaying.
Flecha targeted Nikitin, hunting down the doctor in the parking garage before turning the gun on himself.
Police say the suspect lived alone in a working-class apartment off of U.S. Highway 17-92 in the south end of Orange City. Flecha’s family told police he was a patient of Nikitin, police spokeswoman Lt. Barbara Jones said.
No one answered the door at Flecha’s apartment Friday morning.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement records show Flecha has no criminal history in the state.
Colleagues remembered the 41-year-old Nikitin as a talented man, successful at work and at home.
“He was very smart and he was razor-focused,” said Dr. Edmund Sanchez, a transplant surgeon who supervised Nikitin for two years at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas.
A native of Siberia, Nikitin held a number of jobs in Russia, including anesthesiologist, Sanchez said. When he moved to the United States, Nikitin immediately launched himself into a residency in general surgery.
The doctor juggled a demanding surgical fellowship with family errands because his wife, Lyubov Vladmirovna Nikitina, never learned to drive, friends said.
Focused on work and family, Nikitin didn’t socialize much.
“He didn’t have very many friends,” said Sanchez, who now works at Case Western University in Cleveland, “but once you knew the guy, he was a solid person. He was one of these guys you wish you had 50 of.”
Nikitin remained a quietly passionate surgeon who devoted decades to mastering the intricacies of multiple-organ transplant.
Dr. Srinath Chinnakotla, a liver transplant specialist at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, said he taught Nikitin to transplant livers when Nikitin was a fellow under him at Baylor University. The two men have remained in contact.
“Just a genuinely nice guy,” Chinnakotla said. He described Nikitin as a quiet and thoughtful colleague and a meticulous researcher. The pair had collaborated on multiple publications on kidney and liver transplants.
On Friday, Florida Hospital Orlando Administrator David Banks said “professionals” are working with the doctor’s family to get through the tragedy. A memorial service will be planned for Nikitin next week.
“We’re very saddened by the loss of Dr. Nikitin,” Banks said. “He was a highly skilled professional surgeon, an advocate for patients and an asset to our community.”
But, what prompted the deadly shooting remains a mystery. Detectives recovered two handguns from the scene and have reviewed surveillance video, spokeswoman Lt. Barbara Jones said.
Medical officials would not comment about whether Flecha was a transplant candidate or had already received an organ. While the staffers, and especial the transplant coordination team was “deeply affected” by Nikitin’s death, there will be no disruption in the transplant process for current transplant patients, Banks said.
“The clinical care has to go on — even in dramatic situations like this,” Banks said. “Transplant patients are high-need patients and their care cannot be disrupted.”
Hospital officials said Thursday that Nikitin was a multi-organ transplant surgeon. Records show he did not have any malpractice complaints against him.
Banks also declined to answer questions about hospital security.
Nikitin’s slaying is the 11th homicide investigated by Orlando police so far this year.
Gary Taylor of the Sentinel staff contributed to this story.
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