When Robert Cohen learned about black lung disease as a medical student, he assumed it was a relic of the past. “I thought it was something that happened in the times of Émile Zola” — whose 1885 book “Germinal” chronicled the horrors of France’s coal industry. “I didn’t think I’d see it in my practice.”
Almost four decades later, he still treats miners from downstate Illinois, their lungs scarred from breathing coal dust. They trek up to Chicago, sometimes looking out of place in the sleek hospital waiting room on Chicago’s ritzy Gold Coast, where Cohen sees patients.
“The nurses love them, they are so down to earth,” said Cohen, who also founded a black lung clinic at Chicago’s public county hospital, serving miners from around the region, including many who had migrated to Chicago from Appalachia after mines there closed.