Dr. William "Billy" Cohn, Cardiothoracic surgeon and medical device innovator

The first time I met Dr. William Cohn was on an assignment for the local newspaper. Jovial and charming, I was amazed not only by his curriculum vitae (Professor of Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine plus five other prestigious directorships) but his genius for medical innovation as well. One of the last proteges of cardiology pioneer Dr. Denton Cooley, Dr. Cohn has 80 active or pending patents for his inventions and is the founder or co-founder of five venture-backed life science startups. Did I mention he also plays trombone in a blues band? That one of his inventions is an artificial heart that is pulseless and runs on turbines?

Dr. Cohn works out his ideas by building models in his garage and in a basement lab space at the Texas Heart Institute, where the below portrait was made. He uses expired medical devices, wood, and plastic to build models of his ideas.

I thought making of portrait of Dr. Cohn in the room where much of these expired medical devices are stored would be cool. In hindsight, I might have gone with a cleaner background, especially for viewers (usually outside of Houston) who may not be familiar with Dr. Cohn and his techniques.

The heart in the photo is real. The veins and arteries were filled with a plasticizer and then the organ was placed in a tub of sodium hydroxide to dissolve any surrounding flesh.

I was originally going to have Dr. Cohn hold the heart, but, genius that he is, Dr. Cohn suggested hanging it from the ceiling using surgical thread (easy enough to get rid of in post-production). With the help of my sturdy assistant Michael Klein and a very open schedule by Dr. Cohn, we were able to pull off an image that I hope conveys some of Dr. Cohn's fun-loving spirit.