Soraya Cohen tells PEOPLE her husband Dr. Brad Cohen was "the best father in the world" who was "always there" for his two kids

By Joelle Goldstein and Wendy Grossman Kantor
June 28, 2021 09:51 PM
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Brad Cohen
Brad Cohen
| Credit: Soraya Cohen

The wife of a missing Florida surgeon is speaking out about her anguish as she awaits answers following the Surfside condo collapse.

Soraya Cohen tells PEOPLE her husband, Dr. Brad Cohen, 51, and her brother-in-law, Dr. Gary Cohen, were both inside the Champlain Towers South Condo when it collapsed early Thursday morning.

In the hours following the tragedy, Soraya held out hope that Brad, an orthopedic surgeon in Miami, and Gary, an Alabama-based physician, may be alive underneath the rubble.

But as the days continue to pass, Soraya says it's becoming increasingly difficult to maintain that optimism.

"I feel like it's a surreal nightmare and I'm going to wake up and it's over," she tells PEOPLE. "Especially when I sit there watching the rescue, people just digging in and smelling the dust. It seems like something out of The Twilight Zone. It doesn't seem real."

"Brad was extremely tough, and that's why I thought at the beginning he did survive. I knew that if anybody could survive, it's him," Soraya says of her husband of 20 years, with whom she shared son Avi, 19, and daughter Elisheva, 12.

"But now it's more than four and a half days — without water, without food and [possible] massive injuries — I no longer think there's any chance he's alive," she adds. "The thought that he's not here anymore... It's cataclysmic. It's just such a giant change of your life with no warning."

Brad Cohen
Brad and Soraya Cohen
| Credit: Soraya Cohen

Prior to that devastating evening, Soraya says Brad dedicated his life to helping others.

As the founder of Aventura Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine in North Miami and Miami Beach, Brad worked as an orthopedic surgeon and specialized in sports medicine. He also worked in a local emergency room as an on-call trauma surgeon, according to Soraya.

"[Brad] cared a lot about people. He's a very, very charitable person and giving a lot of money to charities on a regular basis," his wife explains. "He just knocked himself out, always, for other people."

"He was a very principled and disciplined person," she continues. "And he really believed in responsibility and being righteous and doing the right thing, even if it's not the easy thing."

In addition to his work, Brad enjoyed spending time with his family and friends, traveling, exercising and participating in outdoor activities, like paddle-boarding, hiking, and biking.

"He was very athletic and strong, but very gentle," says Soraya, a journalist and the author of the children's book, Fun at the Farmer's Market. "He was a person who believed in and always maximized his time on Earth."

Brad Cohen
From left: Gary Cohen, Mindy Cohen, Soraya Cohen, Avi Cohen, Elisheva Cohen and Brad Cohen
| Credit: Soraya Cohen
Brad Cohen
Brad Cohen with his kids
| Credit: Soraya Cohen

Above all, Soraya says Brad adored his two children — and would do almost anything for them.

"[Brad] was the best father in the world. That's really what he was best at," she notes. "He was an accomplished, a do-er, but his favorite thing to do was activities with the kids... He was always there for them and was very nurturing and as steady as a rock."

"He had such toughness, such fortitude," she adds, recalling a time when Brad drove their family to a hotel in Atlanta just as Hurricane Irma was approaching, despite needing to be in Florida to work at a local hospital.

"There were no more bus tickets or plane tickets so he drove us 16-17 hours to Atlanta through the traffic to settle us into one of the last hotel rooms," she recalls. "Then he turns around and went home to work for days at Mount Sinai hospital for all the potential injuries coming in."

Brad Cohen
Brad Cohen with his kids
| Credit: Soraya Cohen

Because Brad was so used to being on call as an ER surgeon, Soraya notes she immediately knew something was wrong when he didn't answer his phone on Thursday morning.

Her concerns later became a heartbreaking reality when she learned what had occurred at their two-bedroom condo, where her husband and brother-in-law were sleeping after visiting their elderly parents that evening.

"Brad specializes in trauma, so he gets all these people mangled [who have to be] put back together," Soraya explains. "To think that he would die in such an unknown and horrible, crushed, injury-[related] way ... it's so horrific. And it's such a juxtaposition to how he lived his life, and what he spent his life doing, to alleviating even just a fraction of that suffering."

While she continues to wait for answers, Soraya — who was staying at their second home with their daughter at the time — says her kids are still maintaining hope that their father is alive.

"My son, Avi, he doesn't believe he's gone. He believes he's holding on and he's under the rubble and he's alive and he's a survivor," she says.

Miami condo crash
The scene in Surfside, Florida after the condo collapsed
| Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty

Though that idea is harder for Soraya to believe after her most recent visit to the collapsed building site, she is finding comfort in her beloved memories of Brad and the hope that her husband may not have suffered long, if at all.

"Dr. Jerry Sher, his long-time orthopedic surgery partner, said Brad was likely killed on impact," she shares. "I don't want Brad to have had to suffer, so whatever route was the least suffering is what I want for him."

"It's just so unexpected and unbelievable," adds the grieving wife. "Who would even think we would ever be dealing with anything like this?"

Soraya says Brad supported Hadassah Hospitals, and donations can be made here in his honor.

RELATED VIDEO: At Least 99 People Still Missing After Multistory Condo Building in Miami Collapses

As of Monday, 11 victims have been confirmed dead in the building collapse.

Some of the victims' identities have since been released, including Stacie Fang, Anthony Lozano, Gladys Lozano, Manuel LaFont, Luis Bermudez, Ana Ortiz, Christina Beatriz Elvira and Leon Oliwkowicz.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava confirmed during a press conference on Monday that 150 people still remain missing.

Cava said officials' "top priority is search and rescue and find the people," and that "we're going to continue and work to exhaust every possible option in our search."