Tomoaki Kato, MD, FACS is Chief Professor of Surgery and Division of Abdominal Organ Transplant, Surgical Director, Liver Transplant Program, Director of Intestine Transplant Program at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. He was born and completed all his medical studies in Japan, and is featured in the ABC News documentary series “NY Med.”
To the general public, the idea of surgery – and the subject is rarely considered until you or a loved one is faced with it - is that of a precise, sterile procedure requiring robot-like surgeons with steady hands. To fans of hospital dramas on TV, surgery is a messy, tense affair where life and death decisions are made in a split second amid the gossip and good-natured ribbing of the cast.
The truth lies somewhere in between. Performing surgery at the very highest level takes not only a steady hand but nerves of steel, years and years of study and practice and an unwavering trust in your surgical team. But there is also heart and compassion and very often a leap of faith, one taken both by the physician and the patient. Because to treat a patient is to treat the complexities of human nature, to treat the family and friends who navigate this overwhelming process that has no guaranteed outcome.
One of my specialties is ‘ex-vivo,’ a risky procedure in which I must physically remove vital organs in order to reach and remove tumors and other malignant growths deep inside the body, a procedure that challenges even the most accomplished pair of hands, the most courageous heart. By the time a patient arrives in my operating room, a patient is likely already met close to 10 experienced professionals, including other doctors, nurses, psychiatrists and social workers who are equally critical to the success of the procedure. While it may not be the cast of a fictional hospital, our camaraderie has been forged in the trenches and is more real than anything you’ll ever see on television.