Dr. Tomoaki Kato: ‘I Survived Because of Everybody’s Hard Work’

The world-renowned transplant surgeon, who spent weeks fighting for his life after being hospitalized for COVID-19, credits his colleagues with saving him.

After spending the last eight weeks fighting for his life, in the hospital where he saves the lives of others, Dr. Tomoaki Kato, a world-renowned transplant surgeon who contracted COVID-19, was finally strong enough to go home on May 26.

“I survived because of everybody’s hard work,” Dr. Kato said, crediting his colleagues at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center with keeping him alive. Dr. Kato is chief of the Division of Abdominal Organ Transplantation at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center and professor of surgery at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Dr. Tomoaki Kato

Dr. Tomoaki Kato

In a phone interview before his discharge, Dr. Kato, 56, explained how he had become seriously ill soon after he was admitted to the hospital in late March, and had to be placed on a ventilator for three weeks. After he came off the ventilator he was weak, he said. “I think I scared a lot of people. Thank God for the good judgment of all the doctors and the entire team who took care of me. I think I went through every unit (of the hospital). I’m really glad I was here.”

“My colleagues were so supportive,” he said. A few even sat by his bedside all night.

Nearly 200 of those colleagues cheered Dr. Kato as he was discharged from the hospital Tuesday.

“It was so frightening when he got sick and, of course, he means so much to the entire Columbia and NewYork-Presbyterian family,” said Dr. Laureen Hill, senior vice president and chief operating officer of NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “So it is just such a joyful, heartwarming day to see him recovered and on his way home.”

Dr. Hill continued: “It’s a testimony to the amazing physicians and nurses and the entire team that took care of him. … I know personally how hard this was for them knowing that Tom is one of us, and it felt like caring for a family member, someone you care deeply about. I could not be more proud or more grateful for our team.”


“I survived because of everybody’s hard work.”

— Dr. Tomoaki Kato


Dr. Craig R. Smith, surgeon-in-chief at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center and chair of the Department of Surgery at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, echoed those sentiments. “This is a very emotional event. This could not have happened to a better person and more capable surgeon. I feel honored to work with him, and I’m very honored to be here and to see him well, (able) to go home.”

“He’s been our Michael Jordan for (over) 10 years and I can’t tell you how happy (a moment) it is to have him back,” said Dr. Jean Emond, director of the Center for Liver Disease and Transplantation in the Department of Surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center and the Thomas S. Zimmer Professor of Reconstructive Surgery at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

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