Best Doctors 2010: Quick Response

Dr. Alan Cohen

It was an unusually warm day last March when Donald McCracken took his two children outside for some early season baseball practice.

They played catch, and he started hitting balls to his daughter Morgan and son Matthew. Everything was going well until 7-year-old Morgan missed a line drive and the ball struck her in the forehead.

“She didn’t black out,” says her father. But Morgan was left with a bump. Her parents iced it, and the swelling went down.

Several nights later, Morgan complained of a severe headache and then became lethargic. The death of actress Natasha Richardson following a fall on a ski slope where she also hit her head and complained of headaches was still making national headlines. And it made the McCrackens think twice about their daughter’s symptoms.

“It wasn’t in Morgan’s nature to complain, so when she did, we took it seriously,” Donald says. “We decided to call our pediatrician to see what we needed to do.”

That call resulted in a trip to the emergency room at Lake West Hospital in Willoughby.

Once there, a CT scan showed Morgan was bleeding between her skull and brain covering — a traumatic brain injury known as an epidural hematoma. Morgan needed surgery immediately.

She was flown by helicopter to Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. Mere minutes after her arrival, Dr. Alan Cohen, surgeon-in-chief and chief of pediatric neurosurgery began performing a craniotomy to remove the blood clot and relieve pressure.

“Speed is of the utmost importance getting the blood clot out,” says Cohen, who says epidural hematomas are not that unusual. “In neurosurgery, that’s kind of the equivalent of tying our shoes.”

Despite a hectic schedule the next day, which included a full lineup of surgeries, Cohen never went home following Morgan’s procedure. The doctor was in her room repeatedly to check on her and talk to her parents.

“When we’d say ‘Dr. Cohen,’ he’d say ‘Oh, call me Big Al,’ ” Donald says. “He doesn’t carry airs.”

Today, Donald says Morgan’s life has returned to normal. But, he adds, “She certainly doesn’t like baseball anymore.’’

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