Ask any surgeon in the world and they will say that surgery involving multiple-organs is one of the hardest operations that any doctor can perform. Tomoaki Kato became famous in the medical world in 2008 when he removed the stomach, liver, pancreas, spleen, colon and small intestine of a 63 year old cancer patient so he could remove the tumors in her body – before putting all the organs back in. It was a groundbreaking procedure that some considered impossible until Kato did it successfully.
He repeated the procedure in 2009, this time on a 7 year old girl in a much more difficult but equally successful surgery. Multiple organ surgeries usually take around 37 hours without a break, not something that every doctor can do under pressure. The 49 year old Kato, now a Columbia University professor and pioneer in multiple-organ transplantation and tumor resection has performed over 1,000 transplant surgeries, some of them involving more than just one organ. He first came to the United States at age 32, with no experience in transplant surgery and knowing very little English. He became a surgeon in a Florida hospital, but almost lost his job because of his limited language skills. But his excellent surgical technique bought him more time and eventually mastered both the language and the medical skills.
Kato does not wear a white coat because he believes that if people have to look up at him because he looks too dignified, then he can never see eye-to-eye with his patients. It is this kind of out of the box thinking that he constantly employs that makes him the success that he is today. That, and his dedication to helping those who cannot afford medical treatment. Eight years ago, he started to spend his weekends in Venezuela, to operate on patients who need surgery but do not have enough money to go to a really good hospital. He is also a perfectionist at heart because he knows that the patients he operates on are straddling the line between life and death, and so he cannot afford to make any mistakes. “I have to be perfect,” Kato says.