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'He was the real thing': Longview doctor who devoted life to service dies of cancer

By Jimmy Alford jalford@news-journal.com
June 22, 2011 at 10 p.m.


For the past two years, Byron "Biff" F. Cook was living on borrowed time, but he extended his life as long as possible for his family and his passion for helping people.

Cook, 62, of Longview died Tuesday after a nearly two-year bout with cancer.

He was on the medical staff at Good Shepherd Medical Center since May 1982. He also served several years on the medical staff's Patient Care Committee and Surgical Services Executive Committee and became director of the Wound Care Unit in June 1998. He served as the director of the Center for Advanced Wound Healing since it opened three years ago.

Cook focused much of his life on healing others even when he became sick. He was diagnosed with cancer in May 2009 after becoming ill in Oaxaca, Mexico, on a family vacation.

Cook's wife, Suzanne Cook, described the two years since the diagnosis.

"It was just really special. I didn't know about this when he was diagnosed and only found out when I discovered a paper he printed out, but he had researched his cancer and found out it only gave him three to six months," Suzanne said.

"He did everything to extend his life and was able to hold his second grandchild, who is his namesake."

She said Cook also spent his last day at work four weeks ago. She said Cook wanted to sit with two of his patients.

"They're both in hyperbaric chambers because they are prone to infection," Suzanne said. "He wouldn't let himself be brought into the hospital in his wheelchair. He made it the whole way walking."

Cook's son, Chad Cook, said the family has had time to prepare and is doing well.

"We had time, and when he started going downhill, he went very quickly," he said.

Byron Cook had gone on more than 15 medical mission trips, but he was undeterred and still undertook another mission in 2010.

In a story this past year about Cook's service to others in Mexico, Cook talked to the Longview News-Journal about his faith and his remaining time.

"My faith in God has changed things in my life," Cook said in 2010. "I just have today ... get up in the morning and do what I have for today, and He puts challenges along the way, and there's nothing I can't manage with God's help."

First Presbyterian Church Pastor Jonathan Jehorek said Cook understood faith and serving others.

"Whenever there was a need, Biff perked up and wanted not only to meet that need but tried to be the answer, and he didn't want people to know it," Jehorek said. "He was a very wise man, and through that, he was very humble. So I guess it's OK to talk about all that now. He understood the relationship between the love of God and the love of neighbors."

Jehorek said Cook went on those medical mission trips with his own resources and offered his time and anything else he could.

"He also never stopped learning. I could see him on his porch surrounded by books, and it was always interesting asking him about what he was reading," Jehorek said. "He was a man you could sit down in council with."

Tiffany Phillips, Good Shepherd Medical Center's program director of the Center for Advanced Wound Healing, worked with Cook.

"I have only had the privilege of working with Dr. Cook for the past two years, and I am so honored to know a person with a heart as big as his," Phillips said.

"I have never been more blessed to know someone in such a short amount of time. He reminded me continuously of why we work in this field. It is all about the patients, first and foremost, and he believed that to his core. I was amazed by him weekly as he continued to fight his own ailments to care for those of others. He was the real thing, a true picture of selflessness, strength, courage, hope and faith. "

Cayenne Barnett is the clinical nurse manager at the center.

"Regardless of payor source, demographics, social status, race, religion, attitude ... he always pushed for what they needed most and was a voice for them." Barnett said. "He was so strong and courageous throughout his illness and never gave up hope. He will truly and deeply be missed at the Center for Advanced Wound Healing. We will strive to carry on with his purpose in mind with all we do."

His caring nature didn't stop at the hospital's doors. Cook's daughter, Jessica Cook, said at one time or another, her father had stitched up almost every one of his kids.

"He had such a good bedside manner. Every time we were sick, he was at his best," Jessica said. "I think that's one thing patients really responded to."

Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday in the First Presbyterian Church in Longview.

Cook's family said a medical mission fund has been set up at Texas Bank and Trust in his honor, and donations can be made to the Byron F. Cook Medical Mission Fund, P.O. Box 3188, Longview, TX, 75606.

- Chief Photographer Kevin Green contributed to this report.

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