Pediatrician Marvyn Cohen retires after four decades in Columbus

lgierer@ledger-enquirer.comNovember 20, 2013 

ROBIN TRIMARCHI/rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.comDr. Marvyn Cohen, an area pediatrician and allergist for 44 years, reflects on his practice, the advances in medicine and health care, and the changes in his patients over the years. Cohen estimates that he has seen more than 100,000 patients over three generations of families.

ROBIN TRIMARCHI — rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com Buy Photo

When Mary Hamilton heard pediatrician Marvyn Cohen was retiring from his medical practice, the Phenix City woman reached him on the telephone.

She was crying.

"Don't cry, be happy," Cohen told her.

"I can't," she replied. "This is the end of an era."

Hamilton's young daughters Lisa and Julie were among Cohen's first patients when he opened his local practice in 1966. Her first meeting with Cohen was on the day she was participating in a going away party for the doctor he was replacing.

"I felt that first day he was someone I was going to stay with," Hamilton said.

Her instincts proved to be correct. Cohen has not only cared for Hamilton's children, but her grandchildren and great grandchildren, too.

Cohen's final day of work was last Friday. As he prepared to depart his 18th Street office, several cardboard boxes stuffed with photographs of some of the thousands of children he has treated practically filled a room. "It's a staggering number," he said of his patients.

His waiting room was filled with young women and their babies.

Dr. Paul Steinwachs, who has been in practice here since 1999, is opening a new practice, Pediatric Partners of Columbus, at that location. He will retain most of Cohen's staff and will accept many of Cohen's patients.

"Dr. Cohen has served this community through a lot of changes," Steinwachs said. "He will be missed by generations of patients. A lot of people are sad to see him go."

Cohen called his retirement "bittersweet."

He is eager to spend time with family and travel, especially in Europe, but knows he will miss the daily contact with the children.

"I will miss helping parents raise their children," said Cohen, who has cared for the rich and the poor.

"I don't know if he ever took a real vacation," Hamilton said. "He was always worrying about his patients."

Cohen, who has also been one of the area's top allergists, said he is truly touched by the many people who have contacted him since he made the announcement.

"I am extremely happy to hear from so many who say I will be missed," he said, adding that it is a mutual affection.

Cohen smiled and said one of his allergy patients thanked him for the 40 years Cohen has enabled him to play golf.

"What makes him special is he cares so much for people," Hamilton said. "You are not a patient, you are a person. I always felt I could talk to him about anything that was bothering me."

Cohen's first office was in Phenix City, but he moved the practice to Columbus in 1970. He was in a partnership with other physicians until going back on his own around 1983.

"It worked better for me that way," Cohen said.

Cohen, a former president of the Muscogee County Medical Society, is a native of Winnipeg, Canada. He lost his father at an early age, and he and his two sisters were raised by a single mother. His sisters both married Columbus men, bringing the family south.

He attended the University of Alabama.

"I was already there when (Paul) 'Bear' Bryant arrived," he said.

Cohen didn't have much money and worked his way through college taking two jobs, one as a lab assistant in biology and the other as a lab assistant in botany.

"They were very good to me at Alabama," he said.

Cohen graduated from the medical school at Emory University.

He said he has worked through the years with many strong mothers and fathers wanting the best for their children. When working with parents, he has preferred to give suggestions rather than orders.

"A doctor is not God," he said.

Columbus businessman Karl Douglass said Cohen was the only doctor he knew as a child.

"He had to kick me out," Douglass said. "I was still trying to go to him when I got out of college."

As a child, Douglass had a terrible asthma problem. "Dr. Cohen had to be very aggressive in my treatment," Douglass said. "He not only took care of me physically but kept me and my family calm."

Douglass said that he had to get so many injections for his chronic illness that Cohen made him a "side door patient"; he would not have to sit in the waiting room, he would just knock on the side door, come in and get treated.

Growing Room's CEO Sheree Mitchell was the nurse manager for the pediatric unit at The Medical Center (now Midtown Medical Center) for eight years during the 1980s. She said Cohen was "a joy to work with," calling him detailed and thorough.

"He is just an awesome physician, a great man," Mitchell said. "He has done so much for so many."

Cohen has always concerned himself with more than just his patient's physical problems.

He has seen several get in trouble and has worked to set them straight.

"Some have gotten into horrendous situations," Cohen said. "I've played preacher, talking to kids about sex, drugs, their future."

To many teens, he recommends Columbus Technical College, "a diamond in the community."

In the last few years, dealing with some parents has been different.

"They go to the Internet for information. They come in with a list," he said, laughing.

Cohen once said the key for helping children feel comfortable in a doctor's office is to have a friendly staff as well as some books and toys in the office.

He has also purchased about 40,000 lollipops per year.

Cohen is thrilled by the progress he sees in the medical field.

"Miracles are happening," he said. "We are saving kids with leukemia. Kids with congenital heart disease, who at one time had little future, are living."

Although he had serious heart surgery three years ago, Cohen said that did not play a big role in his decision.

"It's just time," he said.

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