Esther Cohen Celebrates Her 98th Birthday, Three Days after Open Heart Surgery

Gathered at Southside Hospital to help celebrate Esther Cohen’s 98th birthday are (top row, left to right) Dr. Jerry Sokol, cardiologist; Dr. Puneet Gandotra, interventional cardiologist. Seated next to Mrs. Cohen is her son Jack.

Doctors credit her 33 years of daily exercise as the key to her successful recovery

BAY SHORE, NY – Three days after undergoing lifesaving cardiac surgery, Esther Cohen left her room in Southside Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit to join her son, doctors and well-wishers for a party. Celebrating her 98th birthday, the tiny dynamo was welcomed by applause and a joyful rendition of “Happy Birthday” as she was wheeled into the room.

What makes Mrs. Cohen’s story so spectacular is that she sailed through a complex surgery three days earlier. Her doctors all agree that her quick recovery is due to a strict exercise program that began more than 30 years ago.

Mrs. Cohen, of Bay Shore, NY, and her late husband, Abe, decided to join a gym after his retirement. Married 73 years, Esther lost her beloved husband in 2009. The self-professed “gym rat” told her delighted audience that she worked out 7 days a week for 33 years until she was diagnosed with severe heart abnormalities three months ago.

According to Mrs. Cohen’s son, Jack, his mother experienced breathing difficulties a few months ago. “After a lot of testing, we were told that she had congestive heart failure and aortic stenosis. On top of that, she also had blocked arteries.”

On Friday, April 3, (just before the start of the Jewish celebration of Passover), Mrs. Cohen underwent open-heart surgery, performed by Alan Hartman, MD, chair of cardiovascular and thoracic surgery at Southside Hospital and North Shore-LIJ.

“Mrs. Cohen had several episodes of congestive heart failure and was diagnosed with calcific aortic stenosis. Further work-up with cardiac catherization revealed coronary disease, as well,” Dr. Hartman said. “Ultimately, because of her physiologic youthfulness, we decided to go ahead with open-heart surgery, but only after speaking with her primary care physician, her cardiologist and her family. Everyone agreed that she was strong enough to have surgery. She, herself, was very positive and certainly did not want to have any more episodes of congestive heart failure.”

Mrs. Cohen’s cardiologist, Jerry Sokol, MD,  shared his impressions of his active patient with members of the news media who att6ended the party.  “We were amazed at Mrs. Cohen’s high level of activity,” he said. “It was because of her great physical condition and her wonderful outlook on life that we decided to go ahead with the surgery.”

Puneet Gandotra, MD,  an interventional cardiologist, who weighed in on Mrs. Cohen’s amazing condition, said, “Mrs. Cohen is living proof of all the research that urges people to exercise as much as they can, as often as they can. Mrs. Cohen teaches us all that exercising and staying active not only lengthens your life, but adds so much to the quality of life.”

Before she was returned to her hospital room, her son Jack gave his mother a kiss and told her, “Don’t go anywhere, Mom. I need you.”

 They shared a laugh when Jack recalled his mother’s comment about her beloved husband. “She tells everyone that my father wants her to live longer. He tells her ‘Stay there, Esther, I don’t need you yet….I have two blondes.’”

Mrs. Cohen revealed that she plans to return to her exercise program when she’s a bit more rested.

No one in the room was happier for Mrs. Cohen than her loving son. “I am so happy to be able to wish my mother another happy birthday,” he said. “This is who my mother is---smiling, active. Always willing to tell a joke and make someone smile. We have so many amazing memories, and I am so grateful that she is still here with me.”

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