No house calls, but an oldtime pediatrician nonetheless


By Pat Wadsley

Eight-year-old Ramona Wright stood in line in front of the Washington Market Park ice cream truck with her friends AnnaLouise Dalo and Macie Rosenthal, when Macie’s mom suddenly announced she had to leave to go to the doctor. “It takes us half an hour to get there,” Macie’s mom reminded her. Ramona, who been concentrating only on lemon or rainbow shots until then, swung around and with wide eyes looked at Macie incredulouly. “You mean you don’t go to Michel?”

Michel is Dr. Michel Cohen, 46, the pediatrician most Tribeca families flock to. He is so popular, he was the subject of a profile in The New York Observer. He’s so fashionable, he warranted a full color page in GQ. And he’s so successful that his new baby book, “The New Basics” (Harper Collins) arrives on the bookshelves in January along with, according to Cohen himself, a huge and well-orchestrated media blitz.

Stepping into his new office on Harrison St., one is bathed in a rich carnival of color, from geometric orange patterns on the walls, to flowered wallpaper in the bathroom floating wavy banquettes. The new office, across the street from his old one, was designed by Michel and his artist wife Jeannie and configured with even more thought to what children like. Machinery is hidden. There are eye-level portholes in each examining room, “so kids don’t feel trapped.” Downstairs there’s going to be a teenage room plastered, says Michel, with rap posters, “a separate place older kids can call their own.”

It’s Michel’s day off but he’s in his office to discuss his new Web sites, one for his book and one for his 4,000-patient practice. Moms who are there for appointments with his associates, a nurse practitioner, physician’s assistant and Dr. Jana DeHovitz whom he brought in when the size of his practice demanded it — are still treated to the Michel touch. A little one with a cough gets a caress on the cheek, an older boy gets a pat on the head, and a “we’ll take care of that.” But how?

“My philosophy is low intervention,” Michel says, as he sips a coffee at Yaffa’s, the cafe he was sitting in ten years ago when he was inspired to set up his practice in Tribeca. “People in France are overmedicated. When I went to medical school I was taught to prescribe without really knowing what I was doing. When I came here, it was a relief. I was free from the rigid restrictions of medical practice in France.”

“He is much different than going to a French doctor,” says Frenchwoman Delphine Dannatt, mother of 8-year-old Maxine and six-year-old Louis. “In France, the doctor is quite unapproachable You don’t ask questions and since everything is paid for, you come out with a big bag of drugs. For your skin, for indigestion, for everything. And the French are so big on suppositories. Children with headaches are treated from the bottom up. Michel doesn’t do that. He is much more natural.”

“He was a proponent of not giving antibiotics years ago,” says Debbie Irwin mother of three of Michel’s patients, Josh, 13, Emily, 11, and Sarah Beth, 8. “One of Michel’s strengths is that he is ahead of the curve medically. But more than that, he is accessible, and warm.”

Michel’s accessibility is one of the keys to his success. For a while, it seemed like he was everywhere: doing headstands in Hudson River Park; Rollerblading with his three children Abeline, Nora and Fanny; making house visits;. having dinner on the street on a rickety old picnic table in front of his old offices on Harrison St. His home, after all, was right in the back of his office, the closer to be to his patients.

“Patients would come here and smell cooking at 6 o’clock,” says Cohen. “I

think they felt it was homey.”

Some parents have their own tales of Michel’s availability.

“When my son Kyle was a toddler he fell on the concrete steps in the playground and put his tooth through his tongue,” remembers Vivian Farmery, a neighborhood child therapist. “Michel was here, playing in the park with his children, and he saw it happen. He ran over, picked Kyle up in his arms, and ran with him to his office where he stitched him up. I’ll never forget it.”

But Farmery, like other neighborhood parents is indebted to Michel for other reasons.

Eight years ago, when Farmery was just starting up her practice, he gave her space, free of charge, for parenting classes. “From there, I was able to start private practice in the neighborhood.” Farmery says. When single mom Manon Chevallerau left the design world behind and found her calling as a doula, Michel started recommending her. Currently, Michel is helping another patient’s mom, Meg Grosswendt get her start as a nutritionist by providing her with a space, free of charge, for her practice. “Michel is all about giving to the community,” says Meg. “Tribeca is growing so fast, but Michel manages to keep it like a neighborhood.”