Every year during the holidays, Dr. Melvin R. Cohen, an infertility specialist, would receive dozens of cards and letters updating him on the children he helped bring into the world.
"Without your help we would have never had the wonderful and full life we've had," Bernadette Kelleher wrote Dr. Cohen in 1995, updating him on her then-17-year-old son, Matt.
Dr. Cohen, 99, known as the "father of laparoscopy" for gynecological diagnosis and surgery in the United States, died of natural causes Tuesday, Dec. 21, in his Gold Coast home, said his son, Alan.
A pioneer in infertility treatments, Dr. Cohen helped bring hundreds of children into the world using progressive treatments he introduced into the U.S. in the late 1960s.
After studying in Europe under masters of gynecological laparoscopy, Dr. Cohen brought to the U.S. the technique of using small cameras to examine and operate on a patient's reproductive system.
In 1966, Dr. Cohen established the Fertility Institute in Chicago, and in 1974, he moved the practice to the campus of Prentice Women's Hospital, according to Dr. Cohen's autobiography. He was also professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, where he was a professor emeritus.
Laparoscopy gained popularity across the nation after Dr. Cohen in 1968 published one of his hundreds of scientific papers on laparoscopy and fertility. He also published the first American textbook on the procedure in 1970 and taught and lectured on the subject.
"In the United States, the 90 percent who are practicing operative laparoscopy today either directly were taught by him or their teachers were exposed to his teaching," said Dr. Brian M. Cohen, a past president of the American Association of Gynecologic Laparoscopists, now known as AAGL, and no relation to Melvin Cohen.
The technique, though eventually accepted into mainstream medicine, was considered heretical decades ago, Brian Cohen said. Doctors at the time were used to invasive surgical techniques to treat and diagnose gynecological problems.
But Dr. Cohen championed the less-invasive laparoscopy despite the push-back from traditionalists. "He kept going because he knew it was better for the patient," Brian Cohen said.
Dr. Cohen was also involved in many progressive infertility treatments, including nonsurgical procedures of in vitro fertilization that are now standard practice, said Dr. Joseph Gianfortoni, who worked with Dr. Cohen in the 1980s.
"Little did I know when I reintroduced laparoscopy in 1966 that it would start a whole new ballgame, especially in the field of reproductive medicine, culminating in such exotica as in vitro fertilization and embryo transplant," Dr. Cohen wrote in his autobiography.
His family said that despite his great achievements and fame in the field, Dr. Cohen remained a humble man who was focused on his work and research. A "quiet giant," said Dr. Franklin Loffer, the executive vice president of the AAGL.
Kelleher, a patient of Dr. Cohen's, said she has never forgotten the "sweet" and "wonderful" doctor who in the late 1970s was able to quickly diagnose and treat her infertility problems after two years of unsuccessfully trying to conceive.
"He totally changed our lives. ... We just wanted children very much, and thanks to him, we have such a wonderful life," Kelleher, of Grayslake, told the Tribune.
Dr. Cohen was born and raised in Chicago in the Rogers Park neighborhood and attended Senn High School, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Illinois College of Medicine, Alan Cohen said.
In addition to his son, Dr. Cohen is survived by his wife of 64 years, Miriam Cohen; daughter Nancy Cohen; and five grandchildren.
Services were held.
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