It’s a peaceful afternoon in Waccabuc, and Gwen Korovin, an ear, nose and throat doctor who specializes in the care of the professional voice, is relaxing in her weekend home after yet another busy week.
Her cell phone rings and she answers it to hear the anxious voice of a Broadway musical star in a panic over a strange rasp in her throat. She is due to perform that evening and needs immediate help.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Korovin agrees to take a car service down to Shubert Alley and administer what she calls “dressing room treatment” to her frightened patient. She also adds a healthy dose of comfort and compassion.
“I treat patients backstage many times a year,” she says. “It’s often between matinee and evening performances when they believe they may be losing their voice and are afraid that they will sound subpar or that performing may do damage.”
Korovin’s patient roster reads like a “Who’s Who” of top vocal performers, including Celine Dion, Lady Gaga, Nathan Lane, Patti LuPone, John Mayer, Hugh Jackman, Julie Andrews, Melissa Errico and Brooke Shields, to name only a few.
“I love what I do. And I take care of everybody, not just stars. It’s a very rewarding specialty, because most things I see in my patients are treatable and I can make them better. But I will say that I love to see my patients perform. And I am thrilled when they say nice things about me to the public, like Celine Dion thanking me as she received her Grammy for ‘My Heart Will Go On,’ the Titanic theme song.”
Korovin is a Brooklyn native who became interested in her specialty, called otolaryngology, when her father’s hearing loss led her to take an elective in the subject at SUNY Upstate Medical University at Syracuse, where she earned her M.D.
After graduating in l984, she interned at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan and completed a residency at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary.
“I was fortunate to be able to join the Upper East Side private practice of Dr. Wilbur Gould in 1989,” she says. “He was well-known throat specialist with patients that included Luciano Pavarotti, Frank Sinatra and John F. Kennedy.” After Gould died in l994, his patients, including Pavarotti, stayed with Korovin.
“It was a smooth transition,” she says. “I had come to know his patients well and they all felt comfortable with me. I had the very good fortune to know and work with such an outstanding doctor.”
Treating the famous
Her practice is mostly based in her office on East 77th Street. She is also a clinical assistant professor at the New York University School of Medicine and has privileges at Lenox Hill Hospital and its Manhattan Eye, Ear & Throat Hospital (MEETH).
“The problems I encounter run the gamut from a simple cold, sore throat or cough to things that are more serious, like severe bronchitis or nodules on the vocal cords,” she says. “Performers are extremely protective of their vocal instruments, often worried that they have something more serious that could impact their careers.”
She can usually treat her performing patients backstage with steroids or anti-inflammatory medications to get them through their performances.
“The black bag I bring to their dressing rooms has everything I need to administer on-the-spot treatment,” she says. “If needed, I will see them later in my office.”
Much of what Korovin does so well involves understanding and compassion.
“A lot of my patients need calming down and reassurance they won’t be doing damage to their voice,” she says. “I am happy to say I have an excellent doctor-patient rapport with my clients. They trust me and confide in me. They know I will be there for them when I get that emergency call.”
In some situations, Korovin has had to tell a performing patient they cannot go onstage.
“That can get tricky, with managers, agents and producers all getting involved. But the patient’s health is the most important thing to me. Canceling can be difficult, but my clients usually take my advice, although some are willing to take the risk to go on.”
Korovin says one thing she often recommends to patients with vocal problems is simply rest for the voice.
“I tell them to keep talking to a minimum and communicate via email. Simply resting the voice can have tremendous benefits for the vocal cords and throat muscles.”
And everyone else
About half of Korovin’s patients are not from the performing arts world, but she enjoys taking care of them just as much.
“Patients come to me with a range of complaints and I treat them all, including performing surgery when needed – like the removal of polyps and cysts – and treating upper respiratory problems and cleaning out sinuses. I like to be conservative and go as far as possible with medical treatment before doing surgery.”
One thing Korovin cautions her patients about, whether famous or not, is to be prudent about using over-the-counter medications for assorted throat and respiratory problems.
“I tell my patients to check with me first,” she says. “Some of these preparations can be irritating or drying. If used over time, they can end up doing more damage than they are worth.”
While Korovin and her husband, attorney Jack Uram, have maintained their Waccabuc weekend home for several years and also share an apartment in the West Village, she’s one doc who’s happy to make “house” calls.
“When they call,” she says, “whether I am in Waccabuc or Manhattan, I will be there as soon as I can to help.”