“My colleagues were so supportive,” he added. A few even sat by his bedside all night.
They also rallied around his care, which included four weeks on a ventilator and one week on ECMO — an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine which takes over the patient’s lung function — as well as dialysis treatment for his failing kidneys. After two months, nearly 200 colleagues cheered Dr. Kato as he was discharged from the hospital last May.
“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, group senior vice president and chief operating officer of NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia Division. “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.”
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 [more than] 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.
After his discharge, Dr. Kato underwent extensive physical therapy and returned to the operating room in August 2020. Since then, he has performed 57 transplants and more than 80 surgeries as of the beginning of June 2021 — each time feeling a deeper connection to the patient beyond the operating room.
“I really never understood well enough how patients feel,” Dr. Kato told The New York Times.
Dr. Kato now not only advises on patients’ post-surgery recovery, but also has tips on the best dishes to order off the hospital menu. “I can be much more on their side, in their shoes, in their thinking,” Dr. Kato said. “‘I was there’ are very powerful words for patients.”