Outstanding Empathy for Patients Motivates UH Ahuja Orthopaedic Surgeon
September 17, 2023
UH Clinical Update | September 2023
There are thousands of reasons that a person goes into medicine, and Wayne Cohen-Levy, MD, has one of the most personal.
When he was 17, at the beginning of his senior year in high school, his mother was diagnosed with leukemia, from which she died.
Dr. Cohen-Levy says quietly, “It was a very trying year. Yet it was very powerful to me that despite having little time left on this Earth, she would take time to pray for her doctors because of how much she appreciated what they were doing for her.”
He thought then that medicine might be his calling. “I realized I wanted to be able to help someone, to provide a service,” he says.
Dr. Cohen-Levy got both his undergraduate and master’s degrees from the University of Florida, and his medical degree from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. At first, he planned to be an oncologist, but reconsidered. It felt too close to home.
Then he worked with a surgeon who was doing research on the spine, which was published, “And in doing that I got a ‘runner’s high,’ knowing that I could get to help people, to fix them and get them back together,” he says. He did his fellowship in adult reconstruction at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, before moving to Cleveland and joining University Hospitals in August 2021.
Part of what drew him to orthopedics as a specialty was that it means often working with older people. “They had complaints and needs that I could relate to because of my grandmother, who is 91. She traveled a lot, and her mobility was paramount to that,” he says. “To have patients come in because they don’t have that mobility, just makes me want to help change that. I want to let them enjoy their lives and not be defined or limited by a physical condition that occurs in most people due to aging.
“As a medical student still unsure of my calling, I remember one patient who was 70-something and in a softball league, and he had knee pain that kept him from playing the game. We all knew this wasn’t MLB or the Olympics, but it was something he was passionate about and something he really enjoyed. My mentor at the time performed his surgery, and I was actually able to see him at a follow-up visit. At that point, he had recovered and was thrilled to be able to participate in the game.”
Dr. Cohen-Levy especially looks forward to working with patients who present complex cases, perhaps because of their age (some have joint replacements into their 80s), co-morbidities, or needing a re-do on a previous joint replacement.
“People are living longer, and as long as they are on top of their medical problems and they are motivated, you can achieve a good outcome with surgery,” he says. “Safety comes first, and patient education is crucial. Patients who are over 80 have more complications, so, for example, they will see their pulmonologist and cardiologist first.
“I feel such compassion for them because they want to get their lives back. I also feel strongly that if the patient puts in the effort, makes changes, such as losing some weight or getting their edema treated, they become a better candidate for surgery.”
Dr. Cohen-Levy sees many patients in terrible pain, which only surgery can relieve.
“One of my patients had a bad heart, but he said he would rather die than to continue to live with the pain he had,” he said.
What makes the surgery safer than ever is that the UH Ahuja Medical Center, where he performs the surgeries, now is even more oriented toward critical care, with the expansion of the UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute there and its anesthesia team.
Of course, he also does joint replacements for younger patients, some in their 40s or even 30s. They have typically been injured playing sports, which in some cases leads to early onset arthritis.
But no matter the patient, Dr. Cohen-Levy has a process that he created and follows that shows how he prioritizes safety, and how meticulous he is about every detail concerning his patients’ procedures, before, during and after.
“What I try to bring to the hospital and my practice is what I learned in my fellowship – that communication between all providers is paramount. That means the hospitalist, the infectious disease doctor, the cardiologist, and so on.
“Yes, the surgeon technically has the freedom to do surgery and then not see the patient again, but that doesn’t work. We work as a team. And as the surgeon, you need to be there to check in and say ‘hi’ and to answer the patient’s questions about the joint replacement.”
The night before every surgery, Dr. Cohen-Levy coordinates with the APPs for orthopedics, the nursing staff, the nurse navigator, residents and social workers. “I do that so everyone is on the same page with the patient,” he says. He’ll list risks, unusual allergies, past medical history that may have been overlooked, and the specific medications the patient should be on, as well special needs he or she might have.
He adds, “It’s all about communication. You can’t assume those on the team know everything they need to.
“Standardization is important, that’s about 80 percent, but the other 20 percent is different with each patient – and it could be the difference between the patient getting a blood clot or not.”
Jessica Goldstein, MD, the Chief Medical Officer of UH Ahuja Medical Center, nominated Dr. Cohen-Levy for the honor he received. Earlier, he received the Provider Award from the UH Ahuja surgery APPs for modeling UH Core Values.
"He is a fantastic physician who cares deeply for each and every one of his patients; he is truly committed to each patient,” says Dr. Goldstein. “He goes above and beyond, even coming in seven days a week to make sure that the patients have everything they need. He is always effectively communicating the daily plan of care goals with our APP team to ensure the best outcomes for patients.
“Both his patients and colleagues are lucky to have him as part of the team."
Congratulations to Dr. Cohen-Levy on his “Dinner with the Doc” honor.