Patient Stories

ABC News: Having Heart Surgery Is Like Flying

by Columbia Surgery on July 10, 2014

On July 10th, Dr.Michael Argenziano, Chief of Adult Cardiac Surgery wrote a guest post for the ABC News Blog on why he became a heart surgeon:

I’m a cardiac surgeon. I’m lots of other things, of course-a husband, father, and Little League coach-but I’ve spent the 30 years since high school graduation essentially working toward one goal, to become the best cardiac surgeon I can be.

Cardiac surgery appealed to me because it was a chance to make a real, measurable impact on the lives of people every single day, helping people out of literally life-threatening situations. As much as I enjoy this, it is the impact that these operations have on their extended families that is most gratifying. I am reminded of the importance of human life every day when I walk into the family waiting room after performing surgery, to find as many as dozens of people, usually from multiple generations, waiting on pins and needles to learn if their family member is going to be OK. Having endured illness and death in my own family, I can never forget that what for me is just one of hundreds of operations I perform each year, for that patient and family is one of the most significant and terrifying moments in their lives. I consider it the ultimate privilege to be trusted with that patient’s life.

When Dr. Mehmet Oz and I met Mr. Carratala, the nervousness, uncertainty, and fear that this street-toughened police detective felt was palpable in the room. He, like most of us, was used to being healthy and in control of his life and surroundings. But he had suffered the unimaginable-a stroke-while on vacation, and in a whirlwind of doctor’s visits and invasive tests learned that he harbored a life-threatening defect in his heart. An abnormal hole in the wall between two of the heart’s chambers had allowed what would normally be a harmless speck of clot to cross over to the left side of his heart and be pumped to his brain.

We explained that although he would need open-heart surgery to close the hole and prevent another stroke, we’d be able to do this minimally invasively, through only a small incision between his ribs. This small consolation seemed to calm and reassure him, although I think what really made him and his family feel better is that we told them that the problem was fixable, and showed confidence that all would be well. Dr. Oz likes to say that the most important role of a physician is not as a healer, but as a teacher (the word “physician” means “teacher”), and I have to agree. I enjoy explaining complicated heart problems and how I’m going to fix them to patients as much as I enjoy actually doing the work. And I understand that one of my most important jobs is to take the burden of anxiety away from the patient by taking control of the situation.

I like to tell patients that having heart surgery is like flying on a commercial airliner. The risk of disaster is quite low, but that’s not because flying an airplane is easy. It’s because the pilot and his team are highly trained professionals, who repeatedly pull off the miracle of getting a 100-ton metal tube to fly in the sky without incident. That’s what heart surgery is like – you’re doing freakish things with a person, connecting them to complicated machines, stopping and opening the heart, making repairs, then starting it up again – and everyone expects it to go smoothly every time. And my kids ask me why I lost my hair…

People often ask me if I like my job, if the rewards are worth the tremendous effort and dedication. The answer usually depends on how my last patient has done, so that day the answer was yes.

Michael Argenziano, M.D., is Chief of Adult Cardiac Surgery at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, where he is also Director of Minimally Invasive Cardiac Surgery and Program Director of the Residency in Thoracic Surgery. He received his M.D. from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and completed his training in cardiothoracic surgery, mechanical cardiac assistance, and surgical electrophysiology, all at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. He is married to Maria Rodino, a Columbia-trained endocrinologist, and they have six children, the oldest of whom will be attending Columbia in the fall and plans to be a heart surgeon himself. Argenziano now appears on ABC News, “NY Med.”

Read the original posting here.

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“Alive with a New, Old Liver”

by Columbia Surgery on February 11, 2014

New York Times Highlights Creative Liver Transplant Surgery in Children

In recognition of February being Organ Donor Awareness Month, we share an inspiring story from the New York Times.

When you think about organ donation, you may think about the prospect of donating organs after a loved one’s (or your own) untimely death. Or perhaps you may be familiar with living donor organ donation, in which a benevolent healthy donor gives a kidney or a portion of their liver to allow someone to undergo a lifesaving transplant.

Tomoaki Kato, MD

Tomoaki Kato, MD

The February 3, 2014 Well column in the New York Times highlighted yet another way in which organ donation can save lives. The column tells the story of Jonathan Nunez, an 8-year-old boy who underwent a very special type of liver transplantation by Tomoaki Kato, MD, Surgical Director of Liver and Abdominal Transplantation.

Jonathan’s transplant, called auxiliary partial orthotopic liver transplantation (APOLT), is a unique type of surgery in which part of his failing liver was left in place when he received his new liver. Because the liver has the capability to regenerate, his native liver had the chance to heal while the new healthy tissue handled his body’s essential functions.

The hope was that with this support, Jonathan’s original liver would heal. And in his case, as in virtually all the other children Dr. Kato has transplanted, it worked.

According to Dr. Kato, “When the failing liver recovers, the child can stop taking the powerful immunosuppressant drugs that are required after transplant surgery. The donated portion of liver will wither and die, leaving the child with a healthy liver and medication-free once again.”

APOLT, also called partial liver transplantation, is appropriate for some children with acute liver failure. It is not appropriate for chronic liver failure, and it does not work as well in adults. As a result, few surgeons in the country have extensive experience with it.

Dr. Kato, one of the highest regarded pediatric transplant surgeons in the U.S. and a pioneer of creative approaches to liver and intestinal transplantation, has performed APOLT in 13 children. Twelve of the 13 children’s native livers have recovered so far, allowing them to stop taking immunosuppressant medications and live normal lives.

See the full story in the New York Times here, and learn more about living donor liver transplantation here.

Videos of Dr. Kato explaining liver and intestinal transplantation are also available in the Center for Liver Disease and Transplantation’s Patient Guide.

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“Call Dr. Chabot and don’t stop living”

February 5, 2014

TweetJan Hilgeman’s story I wasn’t angry, and I never asked “why” I was the one with this diagnosis; it is a question without an answer. Getting the best treatment available while living my life as normally as possible was my job; it never occurred to me that there was any other way. If cancer was […]

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Transplant Patient Reunites with Care Team

January 30, 2014

TweetTwenty years after receiving a heart and double-lung transplant at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, grateful patient Sean Kunzli and his family came to New York City for a celebratory reunion with his surgeon, Craig R. Smith, MD, and the team that performed this lifesaving surgery. Born with congenital heart disease, Mr. Kunzli underwent the risky […]

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First Fully Laparoscopic Adult-to-Adult Liver Donation Saves Daughter’s Life; Dr. Samstein publishes in American Journal of Transplantation

January 17, 2014

TweetWestfield NJ, December 2013 – Together with her extended family, 14-year-old liver transplant recipient Elle Haley enjoyed an extra special celebration of the holidays and the marriage of her grandparents. The year before, she received a portion of her father’s liver in what would be a groundbreaking procedure: Benjamin Samstein, MD, Surgical Director of the […]

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Formerly Conjoined Twins Make Medical History at NYP – Again!

January 10, 2014

TweetOver 20 years ago, conjoined twins Carmen and Rosa Taveras were brought to Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital NewYork-Presbyterian to be separated in a groundbreaking surgery. The twins were separated by a team of 52 doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, technicians, and others in a 14-hour operation that involved rerouting and dividing the internal organs and reconstructing […]

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Thyroid Cancer: My Story

September 4, 2013

Tweet  By Erica Ervin In the fall of 2011, three months after my wedding, I began to experience some strange health issues including an irregular heartbeat and panic attacks. I was just 31 at the time, and I have always exercised regularly, eaten a well balanced diet, and have been very healthy. Since we had […]

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Kevin Rogers Golf Outing & Dinner to Support the ECMO Team

May 6, 2013

TweetLast May, Kevin Rogers, a previously healthy 25 year-old, developed a life-threatening pneumonia that progressed to the point where his lungs and other organs completely failed.  His pneumonia was so severe and his oxygen level so low that even a mechanical ventilator and other intensive treatments could not keep him alive – Kevin was dying.  […]

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Connected for Life

April 24, 2013

TweetIn the spirit of National Organ Donation Month, WABC-TV has partnered with NewYork-Presbyterian to spread the word about organ donation. While scarcity of organ donors is a critical problem nation-wide, especially low numbers of donors affect New York, which currently ranks 48 out of the 50 states in number of living organ donors. “It’s a […]

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IL-2 for Metastatic Melanoma

March 11, 2013

TweetThe following video highlights Stan Adler, a patient whose melanoma had spread to his liver, lungs, and lymph nodes – “more tumors than his doctors could count.” After doing his homework and researching his options, he chose IL-2 therapy at NYP/Columbia. Now in complete remission, Stan has his life back NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia’s Melanoma Center is the […]

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