One of the many cases Dr. Louis Riina oversaw involved a woman who was violently attacked by two pit bulls nearly eight years ago. On Sept. 29, 2011, the dogs tore skin off the woman’s face, neck and left arm. Riina, a plastic surgeon at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, managed her recovery, and she was home with her family that Thanksgiving.
Riina died on April 6 of gastric cancer. He was 56.
“He was a really great guy and a very talented surgeon,” said his brother Howard Riina, 54, of Westchester, a neurosurgeon at NYU Langone Medical Center. Riina’s youngest brother, Joseph Riina, was also a surgeon, and worked in the orthopedic unit of a hospital in Indiana until he died in 2012, at age 45.
“I was always interested in the medical field, and Joe and Lou both followed a similar path,” Howard said, adding that they chose surgery because “we all like working with our hands.”
Louis Riina was a plastic surgeon in private practice and, for over a decade, the assistant director of the Burn Center at NUMC.
He was born on July 13, 1962, in Brooklyn, and two years later his family moved to Bellmore, where he attended Kennedy High School. He earned a degree in biology from the University of Delaware, graduating in 1983, and became a salesman for a medical technology company called C.R. Bard. “But he realized he wanted to be a physician,” Howard said.
Louis earned a medical degree from the Sackler School of Medicine in Tel Aviv, and did his clinical work in New York with the same program. He completed a general surgery residency at Staten Island University Hospital before transitioning into plastic surgery.
Riina took a job with the Long Island Plastic Surgery group, in which he began working on burn cases, work that eventually led him to NUMC. In one case, he treated firefighters whose helmets had fused to their faces after an explosion. Another involved a U.S. Navy veteran named Tim Callahan who was attacked by flesh-eating bacteria in 2012.
After treating Shashi Sharma, the 62-year old North Merrick woman who was attacked by the pit bulls, Riina said, “I really believe the hardest part of this is behind her.” Her injuries included the loss of skin and fat, extensive muscle and tendon damage and lacerations to her face, neck and scalp. Her left arm, from the wrist to the top of the biceps, was missing skin, Riina explained at a news conference at NUMC.
Sharma also lost a great deal of blood in the attack, and was rushed to an operating room, where she underwent surgery “for several hours,” Riina said. She spent the next two months in the intensive-care unit and undergoing physical therapy before, Riina said, she began “walking beautifully” again.
Riina moved to Babylon later in his life with his wife, Cindy. The couple married in 2007 and divorced in 2012.
Riina was an avid boater who loved the water, his brother said. “He was a fisherman, a clammer — a grabber,” Howard said. “He was very active in those communities his entire life.”
Louis and Howard volunteered at ground zero in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, combing through what was then called the pile in search of victims.
In addition to his brother, Riina is survived by his mother, Gloria Riina, 84, of Hampton Bays, and his son Dylan, 12.