Tomoaki Kato has become the nation’s leading surgeon for complex and innovative organ transplants by successfully pioneering grueling procedures that had never even been contemplated.
In 2008 Kato removed all six abdominal organs from a 63-year-old man to excise cancer tumors from otherwise inaccessible locations before replacing the organs. Until then no one had ever performed an auto-transplant simultaneously on the stomach, liver, pancreas, spleen, colon and small intestine. Indeed such a procedure had been deemed impossible.
Kato again made headlines in 2009 when he succeeded again with a similar procedure on a 7-year-old girl.
His pioneering surgeries also includes resuscitating a failing liver by attaching a partial donor liver without the need for immunosuppressant drugs through an innovative procedure called auxiliary partial orthotopic liver transplantation (APOLT).
Another Kato innovation is transplanting two kidneys together with ureters connected to a patch of the donor bladder, known as a partial bladder transplant.
At only 49 Kato has conducted over 1,000 transplant operations. Many have been operations involving multiple organs which can last up to 37 hours nonstop. His successes have made him sought out by cancer patients. He has also begun to turn his skills on those least able to afford them. Eight years ago he began making weekend visits to Venezuela to operate on poor patients.
A pecularity of Kato’s is a refusal to don a white surgical gown when dealing with patients.
“If the doctor’s dignity stands out so much so that people have to look up at him, the doctor cannot see eye-to-eye with his patients,” he explained to Mainichi Shimbun.
Tomoaki Kato prepared for his medical education by earning a BS in biochemistry from the University of Tokyo in 1983. He obtained his MD from the Osaka University Medical School in 1991 before entering a two-year internship in general surgery at the Osaka University Hospital. That was followed by a three-year surgical residency at the Itami City Hospital in Hyogo, Japan.
In 1995, at the age of 32, Kato came to the US to begin a two-year transplant fellowship at the University of Miami and Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. That provided Kato his first experience in transplant surgery. His first months in the US were difficult. A lack of fluency in English nearly caused him to be terminated. He was able to persevere on the strength of surgical skills that were exceptional enough to earn him a position on the surgical faculty of Jackson Memorial in 1997 where he was surgeon and senior leader of the liver and transplantation center. In 2004 he earned the same position at the University of Miami Hospital and was promoted to a full professorship in 2007.
Today Kato is surgical director of adult and pediatric liver and intestinal transplantation at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia University Medical Center, as well as a professor of surgery at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. To date Kato has authored nearly 200 papers published in peer-reviewed medical journals.