Cohen Children’s dentist survives paralyzing wave incident

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From left, James Lawler, Dr. Joseph Brofsky and Dr. Michael Lefkowitz. (Photo courtesy of Northwell Health)

The doctor who runs the dental residency program at Cohen Children’s Medical Center is back at work after a paralyzing injury in the Dominican Republic.

After being struck by an eight-food wave on March 1, Dr. Joseph Brofsky was flown straight from the Dominican Republic to Manhasset’s North Shore University Hospital for a spine operation, according to Northwell Health.

Now, after five weeks of daily physical therapy, the Lynbrook resident is back at work and got to meet his first grandchild Isaac when he was born June 2.

“Every day, life is good,” said Brofsky, 62, in a Northwell news release. “I’m back to teaching, which is my passion. And the best part is that I got to see my baby grandson. All I can say is I saw the baby, I held the baby – and I cried like a baby. I’m very lucky to be alive.”

The accident occurred during an annual vacation Brofsky has with golf buddies. The water he was standing in was about three feet deep, but an eight foot wave knocked him down, he said.

“All I remember is that I hit the ground and my neck snapped,” he said. “I often describe it as a ‘whiplash on steroids.’”

He was unable to move his limbs but conscious enough to think about how he was not ready to die and wanted to be there for his first grandchild who was due soon, he said.

His friend James Lawler noticed Brofsky was missing, found him face down in the water and called for help. Brofsky was soon taken to a local hospital, which found damage to five different vertebras.

After contacting colleagues at Northwell, Brofsky was transported in a Medivac to North Shore University Hospital.

Dr. Michael Lefkowitz performed a 2 1/2 hour surgery, removing vertebra and stabilizing the spine with rods, he said.

The initial physical therapy was between three and four hours a day. Brofsky still goes twice a week for two-hour sessions.

His first day back at work was June 14.

“With all of this, I still have to say that his progress is incredible,” Lefkowitz said in the news release. “When I first met Joe, he couldn’t hold a knife and fork. Recently, he called to tell me that he was able to eat a bagel, and we were all delighted.”

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