When a Surgeon Became a Covid-19 Patient: ‘I Had Never Faced the Reality of Death’

Dr. Emond had Dr. Kato was lured away from the University of Miami in 2008 because of his rare expertise in intestinal transplants and so-called ex vivo cancer surgeries, in which the surgeon cuts out abdominal organs to get to hard-to-reach tumors and then sews the organs back in place. Most importantly, Dr. Emond in Dr. Kato saw a willingness to push the limits of what surgically could be done to help patients.

“He brought his culture of innovation with him,” said Dr. Emond. “And his personal abilities, his ability to work long hours, never to give up, never to give up, no matter how difficult the situation is, to carry out operations that many consider impossible.”

In his first year at Columbia, Dr. Kato and his team successfully successfully found a 7-year-old girl, Heather McNamara, whose family has been told by several other hospitals that their stomach cancer is inoperable. The operation, during which six organs were removed and reinserted, lasted 23 hours.

More and more patients from across the country and around the world sought Dr. Kato for surgeries other hospitals couldn’t or wouldn’t do. He had also started traveling to Venezuela to perform liver transplants for children and teach the procedure to local surgeons, and he set up a foundation to support the work there and in other Latin American countries.

When Dr. Kato’s colleagues struggled to save him, a waiting list of surgical patients hung on the hope that he could save them soon.

Gradually, said Dr. Pereira, there were signs of recovery.

“You come by early in the morning to see him,” he said. “The hospital corridors are empty and everyone looks at each other with fear and fear. You go to the intensive care unit dreading bad news and the team gives you a kind of hopeful thumbs up that maybe he is better. “

Dr. Kato spent about a month on a ventilator and a week on ECMO. Like many people with severe Covid, he was tormented by frightening and vivid hallucinations and delusions. In one he was arrested at the Battle of Waterloo. In another he had been deliberately infected with anthrax; only a hospital in Antwerp could save him, but he never got there. He saw the white light that some people describe after near-death experiences. “I felt like I died,” he said.

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