Patients praise Hopkins surgeon as calm, forthright

Elizabeth Coxe's back pain was flaring up again. She'd been thrown from a horse about 35 years ago, and a new knee injury was aggravating the old hurt.

Last fall, on the advice of friends, she sought and got relief from Dr. David B. Cohen, the Johns Hopkins orthopedic surgeon who was shot in the abdomen by the distraught son of another patient Thursday morning.

"He sat down and explained so much to me in great detail," she said. "Today, some doctors take time, but many do not. He was so careful about explaining everything."

Coxe said her "heart sank to the floor" when she heard news of the attack. "Why him? He's done so much for so many people."

Coxe, a resident of Phoenix, Baltimore County, is one of Cohen's patients who felt compelled to talk about him and wish him well, some on Facebook or other outlets. In interviews, they said that they can't understand why someone would shoot him.

Several described his calm and comforting demeanor, especially at a time when many patients are in intense pain and, perhaps, vulnerable. They understand that not everyone has such positive outcomes, especially when it comes to spinal surgery. But at a time when many complain about the health care system, they said they also appreciated the thorough explanation of their problems and exploration of the best treatment.

Hospital officials and police say that Cohen, 45, was taken into surgery after the shooting and was in fair condition Friday. The shooter, identified by police as Paul Warren Pardus, was upset after a conversation with Cohen about his mother's care, and later turned the gun on his mother and himself.

Several patients and fellow professionals have described Cohen as a methodical doctor who is well-liked and respected. Patients said they particularly appreciated the time Cohen spent with them.

Coxe said she went to Cohen because he had successfully treated a friend who was so incapacitated by her back pain that she was nearly unable to move. After extensive surgery by Cohen, the friend was "doing wonderfully well."

She was ready for her own surgery. But after review and discussion, Cohen recommended a nonsurgical treatment to start, something that surprised her.

"I was so impressed with him," she said. "He's kind and caring. But I suspect he wouldn't want all these public laurels. I think he'd be embarrassed because I think he's very modest."

Susan Revello said she got the same treatment. She first came to Hopkins nine years ago with a stack of images of her aching back, taken by doctors who couldn't figure out what was wrong.

"It took 10 minutes for Dr. Cohen to diagnose me," said Revello, a suburban Washington resident who has since had three operations on her back and neck by Cohen. "The quality of my life has been drastically improved. I'm simply so devastated and horrified about what happened."

Revello said she'd had surgery in Florida years before seeing Cohen to fuse a disk, and though he quickly determined that surgery didn't work, he patiently reviewed why and what he believed he should do about it. He did two more operations to repair the damage, which she said eliminated most of her pain.

Years later when she was in a car accident, she returned to see him about searing neck pain. She said she was again "blown away" by his accessibility and his forthright manner, and how he explained the risks and benefits of surgery.

He had so earned her trust that when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she went to him for referrals to other doctors.

Steve Kennedy says he got a referral to see Cohen a couple of years ago and made an appointment for his wife, Theresa, after checking on the doctor's record.

After an extensive discussion with Cohen about Theresa Kennedy's back pain, the Myersville woman was set for surgery. Cohen, however, insisted they get a second opinion because the procedure was significant.

"I'd not heard that before," Kennedy said. "It was a potentially life-changing decision. All of this was very important to my wife, and now she won't go to anyone else."

She has a follow-up appointment Sept. 27. Kennedy said they hope to reschedule once the doctor returns to work.

Cohen didn't do much to Juliet Yeates-Trotman's father, Tyrone Dickerson. She'd brought him from his home in Richmond, Va., for a second opinion. But Cohen made such an impression that she remembered him from just one brief encounter.

"None of us is a medical professional," said Yeates-Trotman of Owings Mills. "He made it easy to understand. He was a nice man, not overly gregarious. But he seemed to have a … calming effect — just the right demeanor for the occasion."

All the praise pouring in for Cohen doesn't surprise doctors who know him and his wife, Cynthia, a nurse who also works at Hopkins. They live in Cockeysville and have two young children.

Dr. Stephen A. Barnes, who trained at Hopkins with Cohen, called him a "wonderful guy."

Cohen, Barnes wrote in an e-mail, is a "truly dedicated doctor and yet friendly and witty man, and his wife (a transplant nurse specialist who he met on the wards as a resident) managed to get me through a very tough transplant rotation as a resident. Dr. and Mrs. Cohen are good folks. No one deserves this, but particularly not David."

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