My mother gave me an anatomy book when I was around 8 or 9 years old, and that started my fascination with the human body. As I got older, I realized that not only did I have a love for science, but also a genuine desire to help others.
Many of my family members are in the healthcare field: I have a grandfather who is a retired cardiothoracic surgeon; a great-uncle who’s a retired dentist; an uncle who is an orthopedic surgeon; and a cousin who’s a vascular surgeon. At our family reunions, we often talk about how we come from a family of healers since there have been many ancestors who were midwives.
I was raised primarily by my mother, who had not attended college at the time (she later received her degree when I was in medical school), and she was determined that I would attend college. Her push and my later learning that my grandfather was a successful surgeon instilled the confidence that I too could become a physician.
I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, and I went to medical school at the University of Tennessee in Memphis. My initial draw to surgery was related to my trauma surgery experience as a medical student. I did my residency at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, where I had a lot of exposure to the transplant field. That’s when my interest shifted. I did my transplant fellowship at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, where I trained as an abdominal transplant and hepatobiliary surgeon. I’m trained to perform liver, kidney, and pancreas transplants, as well as liver resections and general surgery.
Transplant surgery is an exciting field because it provides a variety of operations that range from minimally invasive approaches with living donors to open procedures that are technically demanding and can last upward of 12 to 15 hours.
The main challenge with transplantation is the discrepancy between organ supply and demand. Over 30,000 organ transplants are performed annually, but there are over 100,000 patients on the waiting lists. There continues to be a huge need for us to alleviate that problem by preventing organ failure, increasing organ donation, and continuing to explore innovative ways to increase organ supply such as using stem cells. There is still room to increase graft survival by optimizing immunosuppression medications used to prevent rejection.
One of the biggest areas we have room for improvement is lifestyle — changing how people live and eat so they don’t end up having organ failure and needing a transplant.
As the program director of our general surgery program, I’m in charge of educating the surgeons who come here (to NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center) for their training. When you have a certain level of expertise, your goal is to not only teach the next generation, but also to give them the foundation to do bigger and better things.