First published in the June 9 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.
Within two months, USC Verdugo Hills Hospital has brought musician Jacob Cohen from the surgical room back to the stage.
It’s a result he’s pleased with, particularly after discovering this year that he’d developed kidney cancer and that it was near the point of catastrophe. As he recovered, Cohen, who plays in the band Stereo Workers Union, was offered the chance to join a dozen or so other musicians — fellow patients, or family members of patients — to play in a thank-you concert that would also attract donors to fundraise for future medical advancements in urology.
He was joined on that stage in May by a lineup that included Grammy-winning trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and Los Angeles Philharmonic musical director Gustavo Dudamel.
“I’m pretty amazed to be with these guys, with the caliber they are,” Cohen said, following a pre-concert rehearsal. “I was off my feet for a month. I just had surgery, so this is my first performance since.”
The concert, held in one of the conference rooms at USC-VHH, brought in friends and supporters of the hospital to enjoy a unique night of music and learn about the medical endeavors of Dr. René Sotelo, the medical director of international health for Keck Medicine of USC and a professor of urology for the system. Sotelo, who lives in La Cañada Flintridge and practices at USC-VHH, aims to develop the world’s premier urology department and make available worldwide groundbreaking treatments for benign prostatic hyperplasia, genitourinary fistulae, penile cancer and other related ailments.
For this endeavor, Sotelo aims to raise at least $100,000.
Sotelo was the surgeon for Cohen’s surgery, which involved a Da Vinci Robot machine that used minuscule incisions to cut and remove the cancer.
“His team and staff are just incredible. Everything went pretty smooth,” Cohen said. “I’m a little sore and a little slow moving around, a little fatigued by the end of the day, but otherwise, it’s a huge difference.”
Sotelo explained that he developed the idea for assembling this concert production after a patient who is an instructor at the School of Music program in Culver City asked to play him a handful of songs on saxophone as a token of gratitude. Sotelo said his mind gravitated quickly to his friendship with Dudamel, whom he met while practicing medicine in Venezuela when Dudamel was a student in the nation’s El Sistema music program.
“I started getting the idea, knowing Gustavo and having other patients who I know play different instruments,” Sotelo added. “I said, ‘Why don’t we do something?’”
The show included more than half-dozen performances, including an enthusiastic rendition of “Flight of the Bumblebee” and a triumphant solo of “God Bless America.” Dudamel, who performed on violin, also joined the crew in singing “El Cuarto de Tula” to cap off the evening.
Cohen, who joined the stage on conga drums, said the concert was the first time he’d had a chance to play with any of his stage mates.
“I’ve been pretty much shut down since the surgery,” he said. “This is kind of my first ‘getting out,’ so there’s been no practicing.”
Sotelo said the theme of the concert also synchs up with USC-VHH’s embrace of using the arts as a therapy for recovering patients. He said he hopes to make the concert a regular event and added that patients are already asking when they can join in.
“We feel that music is a therapeutic thing. Most of these patients feel that when they’re stressed or they have an issue,” Sotelo said. “Music is a universal language. It can relax anyone. It’s something that gives you peace. When I do surgery, for example, I have music in my operating room. People know exactly what kind of music I like.”
Those interested in donating to the Rene Sotelo, MD Research and Education Fund can do so at igfn.us/vf/SOTELO.