Emailed thank-you note gives Pensacola lawyer a blast from past
Attorney Joel Cohen talks about his experience
representing premature female twins in critical need of
a blood transfusion at Sacred Heart Hospital in 1975.
Cohen recently received an email from one of the
twins, Carolynn Ivey, thanking him for saving her life.
Ivey's twin sister died in infancy.
Mar. 26, 2012
Written by Troy Moon
Pensacola attorney Joel Cohen was just skimming his email when a sentence jumped out at him: "You saved my life when I was a baby."
He was a bit confused at first.
"I thought maybe they were trying to write to a Dr. Cohen," said Cohen, 65, a downtown attorney. "I don't remember saving any life. I hadn't jumped into any swimming pool and fished out any children."
Then he saw the name, and it came back.
"It raised the hair on my neck," he said.
The email was from Carolynn Ivey Evans, a 36-year-old Ohio woman who might have died as an infant without Cohen's legal efforts.
Twins Carolynn and Julia Ivey were born on Aug. 31, 1975, in Panama City. When their parents brought the girls, months premature and weighing less than 2 pounds each, to Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola for treatment, doctors determined they needed blood transfusions to save their lives.
But the girls' parents were Jehovah's Witnesses whose faith, based on biblical interpretation, prohibits blood transfusions.
Very quickly, the Escambia County Circuit Court intervened, and a judge appointed Cohen, a young attorney in private practice, as the girls' guardian ad litem.
"Back then, if judges got into a situation that was a little bit dicey, they would look at the newbies in The Bar," Cohen explained. "I got a call that I needed to be in court that day."
He never went to the hospital to see the girls. He never talked to their parents. But he devoted himself wholeheartedly to the case, which was played out in local media.
"Once I saw the gravity of the situation, I jumped in with both feet," he said. "I had no reservations whatsoever. I had a baby who was 4 or 5 months old then. It wasn't many months before that I was in the nursery or maternity ward."
The court ruled that Cohen, as guardian ad litem, had the authority to sign a consent form authorizing Sacred Heart physicians to perform the transfusions. But the doctor declined to administer the transfusions if based solely on Cohen's consent without a direct court order.
So Cohen hopped on a plane to Tallahassee, where the 1st District Court of Appeal immediately ordered the physician - who testified that he felt the transfusions were medically necessary - to perform the procedures on the week-old infants.
"We were back in Pensacola that night with appeal papers in hand," Cohen said. "At any moment, something could have happened (to the girls)."
That evening, the transfusions began. Julia, the smaller of the two, died the next day, but Carolynn's health gradually improved.
Over the years, the case of the twins drifted from Cohen's memory. Until recently, when he received the email.
"It was touching," Cohen said. "Touching that she recognized me working hard for her."
For Carolynn Ivey Evans — she is married now, living in Ohio — the email to Cohen was part of a search for identity.
"I'm 36 now and a mother of four," she wrote in an email to the Pensacola News Journal for this story. "For years, I have wondered what had happened to me and my twin sister. I started my search six months ago via Internet and was so surprised at how big the story really is. ...
"So I contacted Mr. Cohen (to thank him) for saving my life. If it was not for Mr. Cohen fighting for me, I would not be here today! It brought me to tears that he would try so hard."
Ivey Evans spent a bit more time in the hospital recovering and went home with her parents.
Her mother left the Jehovah's Witnesses faith a year later, and her father later went to prison, where he died in 1995.
"My relationship with my mother is great," Ivey Evans wrote. "Though this is something that we have not really discussed. I don't want to upset her."
Today, Ivey Evans works as a shipping and receiving clerk. She has four children, three stepchildren and three stepgrandchildren.
"I donated my children's cord blood at birth," she said. "I hope a child's life has been saved. If one of my children were in need, I would not think twice about getting the help they need to survive and get the fighting chance I have been given."