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Charles Cobau (1930-2018)

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Charles D. Cobau, M.D.

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Charles Cobau, a pioneering medical oncologist and a champion of access to cancer care, died Thursday. He was 88.

Though the cause of death remains unknown, Dr. Cobau likely died of sudden cardiac arrest, said his wife, Dr. Teresa Betts-Cobau. His family has a long history of heart problems, she added, including his eldest son, who died of a heart attack while playing tennis at age 42.

In the 1960s, Dr. Cobau brought medical oncology to the Glass City, opening its first medical oncology practice at the Toledo Hospital. When he retired in 2005, the Toledo Clinic Medical Oncology group had hired five oncologists. Now, the clinic has 12.

“His legacy is really the footprint,” his wife said. “Charlie was a renaissance man.”

Dr. Cobau also pioneered medical oncology throughout northwest Ohio. He founded the Toledo Community Hospital Oncology Program, now the Toledo Community Oncology Program, which established satellite oncology clinics throughout the area. Since its founding in 1986, the program has expanded to 33 counties across northwest and west central Ohio, southeast Michigan, and Virginia, bringing cancer care and clinical trials to remote areas in the Midwest.

“He wanted to apply the scientific to the clinic, so that was a part of the founding principle of [TCOP],” said Rex Mowat, a colleague at the Toledo Clinic.

On June 13, 1930, Charles Duffy Cobau was born to William and Sarah Cobau in New Castle, Pa. His mother died of breast cancer, when there were few options besides surgery for patients like her, his wife said.

“That had an impact on him, that his mother died at such an early age,” she added.

After graduating from Amherst College in Massachusetts in 1952, Dr. Cobau attended medical school at the University of Pennsylvania and completed his residency at the University of Michigan. During the Cold War in the 1960s, he enlisted in the Air Force, rising to captain in the Strategic Air Command.

When Dr. Cobau entered medical oncology, the field was brand-new terrain, his wife said, adding that her late husband saw the opportunity for pioneering science. He was a member of the first class of trained medical oncologists at the the University of Michigan.

He came to Toledo after his fellowship at Michigan, opening the first practice at the Toledo Hospital and then joining the Toledo Clinic in 1965. The Toledo Clinic Medical Oncology Group later expanded to the ProMedica Flower Hospital, where Dr. Cobau met his second wife, Dr. Betts-Cobau, who was an oncology nurse at the outpatient medical oncology department.

Dr. Cobau also served as adjunct faculty at the University of Toledo. Before nurse practitioners were commonplace, he trained his nurses with the oncological knowledge to “keep the ship going,” his wife said, while Dr. Cobau was out, in rural areas such as Fremont and Defiance, setting up clinics.

“He believed that every human being should have access to the most current treatment regimen and that they were also deserving, not just people in the city," Dr. Betts-Cobau said. “Just because you live out in the farm country doesn’t mean you couldn’t have the same quality care as if you lived in the big city.”

A nationally recognized medical oncologist with many accolades, Dr. Cobau was a charter member of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the national organization for cancer physicians, and a consultant with the National Cancer Institute, where he reviewed grant proposals. As chief of the oncology division at Flower Hospital, he was also named president of the Association of Community Cancer Centers.

He is survived by his wife, Dr. Teresa Betts-Cobau; his sons, Hank Cobau and Ed Cobau; six grandchildren; two stepchildren, and three step-grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Walker Funeral Home on Sylvania Avenue. The memorial service will begin after visitation.

The family requests donations be given to the Hospice of Northwest Ohio or Epworth United Methodist Church.

Contact Hailey Fuchs at hfuchs@theblade.com  , 419-724-6050, or on Twitter @Hailey_Fuchs.

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