Marcia R. Cohen, 94, formerly of Wynnewood, one of the oldest liver transplant recipients in the world, died Friday, Dec. 24, of heart failure at her son’s home in New York.
Mrs. Cohen was 74 when she received a liver transplant in March 2002 at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and she surprised doctors and her family over the years by not only outliving expectations because of her advanced age but also thriving.
According to the American Liver Foundation, about 8,000 liver transplants are performed in the United States every year, and recent statistics show that just a little more than half of the recipients live for 20 years.
Mrs. Cohen was certainly among the most active. She continued to exercise, travel, play bridge and other games, and work on the New York Times crossword puzzles (in ink) for years after her surgery.
She celebrated a family milestone with rides on a motorboat and golf cart just months before her death. Hours before she died, as she lay in bed, she and her son Barry worked on a crossword puzzle together.
Unable to see and write, she listened as he gave her the clues, and she whispered the answers. “She seemed to get stronger as she aged,” said her son. “She had as much hair at 94 as she did at 24.”
Mrs. Cohen was suffering from primary biliary cholangitis, an autoimmune disease that causes progressive destruction of the bile ducts in the liver, when she became one of the oldest, if not the oldest, person in Philadelphia to receive a liver transplant.
Afterward, as the drugs she was taking helped her improve, Mrs. Cohen became involved in longevity studies designed to understand which drugs worked best for transplant recipients. Optimistic and active throughout her life, she embraced her second chance immediately.
When the last tube was finally removed from her mouth in the hospital after surgery, she said: “Piece of cake.”
“It was a new life, and she treated it that way,” her son said.
Mrs. Cohen and her family went on to be among the first contributors to Penn’s Clyde F. Barker Penn Transplant House, which opened in 2011 on Spruce Street to accommodate recipients and their families as a “home away from home” during their time of treatment and recovery.
Born Aug. 10, 1927, in the Bronx, Mrs. Cohen studied Spanish and Portuguese and earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Wisconsin. Later, after moving to Wynnewood, she got a master’s degree in social work from Bryn Mawr College.
A longtime gardener who loved to create and then wander around her intricate landscapes, she graduated from the Barnes Foundation’s horticultural certificate program and turned her one-acre plot in Wynnewood into a dazzling array of pinks, reds, greens, and browns.
Mrs. Cohen, then Marcia Rosen, had met Elias Cohen in high school on Long Island, and they both wound up attending the University of Wisconsin. They married in 1948, and had sons Barry and Peter.
The family settled in Camp Hill, Pa., in 1957, when her husband became Pennsylvania’s first commissioner on aging and worked in Harrisburg. They both spoke Portuguese, so visiting foreign officials who also spoke that language often found themselves at the Cohen house for a time.
They moved to Wynnewood in 1970 when he took a job at Penn and pursued a law degree at Temple University. Devoted to public service like her husband, Mrs. Cohen used her social work degree from Bryn Mawr to help families and the elderly through the Pennsylvania state board of social workers.
Away from her job, Mrs. Cohen supported the National Constitution Center, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and Main Line Reform Temple. An opera buff, she got involved at the Academy of Vocal Arts, and her love of gardens led to her participation in the Delaware Valley Hosta Society.
She liked to hike and ride horses, and she and her family visited Tanque Verde Ranch in Arizona for 32 straight years. She moved to Pompton Plains, N.J., after her husband died in 2020.
“She was intellectually curious her whole life,” said son Barry.
Her brother, Arthur Rosen, said, “Marcy epitomized the best combination of beauty and brains.”
In addition to her sons and brother, Mrs. Cohen is survived by four grandchildren and other relatives.
Private services were held Dec. 26.
Donations in her name may be made to the Clyde F. Barker Penn Transplant House, c/o Andrew Deal, Penn Medicine Development and Alumni Relations, 3535 Market St., Suite 750, Philadelphia, Pa. 19104. Checks should be payable to Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania.