Surgeon Spotlight

Welcome to one of the newest Chimera features! In this column, senior and junior faculty members answer the same questions about their lives and careers. We hope this helps ASTS members across generations get to know each other a little better in a lighthearted way.

colleen jayName: Colleen Jay, MD, MS

Institution: Wake Forest Baptist Health

Brief biosketch: Colleen Jay, MD, MS graduated from Indiana University with a BA in Journalism followed by medical school at Indiana University as well. She completed her general surgical training at Northwestern University in Chicago while also spending 2 years as a transplant research fellow and obtaining a MSCI. Dr. Jay completed a transplant surgical fellowship in 2014 at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. She then joined the staff at University of Texas in San Antonio where she served as the surgical director of pancreas transplantation and living kidney donor program and held the Valero Distinguished Chair in Transplantation. In 2018, she joined the staff at Wake Forest where she is the Director for the Living Kidney Donor program and continues to pursue an active clinical research practice.

Spotlight Questions:

  1. Who was your earliest professional influence?

    The first surgery I scrubbed in on as a medical student at Indiana University was a liver transplant performed by Dr. Jonathan Fridell. I am not sure I realized it immediately, but I was already hooked when I witnessed the liver reperfused. Also, strong, brilliant, and incredibly capable role models and mentors like Julie Heimbach, Talia Baker, and Nancy Asher deserve a tremendous amount of credit in inspiring me and so many other women in my generation to become transplant surgeons. 

  2. What are you most proud of personally/professionally?

    I am extremely proud to be able to work with a team of incredibly dedicated and passionate partners and individuals at Wake Forest whose combined efforts have resulted in extremely exciting growth of our living donor program and our transplant program as a whole. 

  3. What is your favorite pastime/hobby?

    I like to run….in the woods preferably…sometimes for a very long time. 

  4. If not transplant surgery, then what?

    I would love a job that includes mornings of long runs and afternoons of baking…I am pretty sure that’s called retirement, so meanwhile I prefer to stick with transplant. 

  5. What was the best piece of advice you have received?

    I have been blessed to have the voices of so many amazing mentors in my head, it would be hard to pick one. I would love to give credit to Mark Stegall for, “The hard part was easy, and the easy part was hard.” I am also a sucker for Prefontaine quotes. One of my favorites is, “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”  

  6. What’s your favorite drink?

    Topo Chico and craft beer – local brewery Wiseman makes some of my current favorites. During races, there's nothing like a Coca-Cola (rocket fuel).

  7. What’s your favorite movie?

    I haven’t kept up with movies lately, but am currently addicted to “The Great British Baking Show” while on my treadmill. (Credit to Ryan Helmick, who was a transplant fellow with me at Mayo, for the TV show tip.)

head shot JKHeimbach2Name: Julie Heimbach, MD

Institution: Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN

Brief biosketch: Julie K. Heimbach is a professor of surgery and chair, division of transplant surgery at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.  She completed her undergraduate studies at Carleton College, followed by medical school at the University of Minnesota, and residency at the University of Colorado.  After completion of fellowship in transplant surgery at Mayo Clinic, Dr Heimbach has remained on as faculty.  Dr Heimbach is a current member of the ASTS council, and on the ASTS Foundation Board.  She previously served on the governing board of the AASLD, the OPTN Board of Governors, and was the Chair of the OPTN/UNOS Liver & Intestine Committee.

Spotlight Questions:

  1. Who was your earliest professional influence?

    As a medical student, I was inspired to go into surgery by Dr. William Gamble, a private practice general surgeon at a community hospital where I had elected to do my surgery rotation, since I was certain that I was not going to go into surgery. He was a superb technical surgeon who took his role as a teacher very seriously and treated everyone in the room like they mattered. As a surgical resident, a strong influence was our chair of surgery, Dr. Alden Harken, a cardiac surgeon who professed daily that he did not need to take days off because every day he got to come to work was better than any vacation, and whose remarkable energy and enthusiasm could not help but rub off on all of us. Because of a fluke in the rotation scheduling, I was on transplant in years 1, 2, and 3, where I also got to work with the chief of transplant, Dr. Igal Kam, who was a remarkably talented surgeon who put the interests of the patients first.

  2. What are you most proud of personally/professionally?

    I am exceptionally lucky to have two really great kids, and professionally I am very happy to work with my amazing colleagues and proud to be at Mayo Clinic, which quite remarkably does keep the primary value that the needs of the patient come first

  3. What is your favorite pastime/hobby?

    Running.

  4. If not transplant surgery, then what?

    An astronaut.

  5. What was the best piece of advice you have received?

    The night before I ran my first marathon at age 19, an experienced runner told me, "Remember, 22 miles is half-way." This did not make any sense until I had reached that point in the race, and was facing those exceptionally challenging last 4 miles. Knowing it was normal to feel so terrible actually made it easier, or at least possible. That can apply to many other rough patches that have occurred throughout the fairly long pathway required for a career in transplant.

  6. What’s your favorite drink?

    Diet Coke and Summit Beer

  7. What’s your favorite movie?

    It is impossible to choose just one favorite because I love movies. Favorite from this year is They Shall Not Grow Old, which is a remarkable film by Peter Jackson.

thumbnail (15)Name: John Roberts, MD

Institution: UCSF

Brief biosketch: John P. Roberts, MD is a Professor of Surgery in the Division of Transplant Surgery and holds the Endowed Chair in Abdominal Transplantation. After receiving his medical degree at the University of California, San Diego, Dr. Roberts completed his postdoctoral training at the University of Washington, Cornell University and the University of Minnesota. He is a past president of ASTS and current Chair of the ASTS Foundation Board of Directors.

Spotlight Questions:

  1. Who was your earliest professional influence?

    When I was a resident at the University of Washington, the transplant surgeon was Tom Marchioro. He was an amazing surgeon who introduced me to kidney transplantation.

  2. What are you most proud of personally/professionally?

    I am very proud of the UCSF transplant team.

  3. What is your favorite pastime/hobby?

    Tennis

  4. If not transplant surgery, then what?

    Long ago, probably would have been oncology.

  5. What was the best piece of advice you have received?

    It is important to recognize that your time is limited. You can view it as a container that has a certain volume and what you do each day is a gas that will expand to fill the volume. The gas includes things clinical, academic, social and family life. As one takes on more responsibilities, the container won’t grow larger so you begin to pressurize the gas, which has the effect of increasing stress. At some point, every time you take on a new task, pursuit or family obligation, you need to decide what to give up. For example, the Chair wants you to take on a new committee role, you need to look at what you are going to give up to make room. You can’t just add it into the mix and expect that all will be fine.

  6. What’s your favorite drink?

    Negroni

  7. What’s your favorite movie?

    Babe

thumbnail (16)Name: Parsia A. Vagefi, MD, FACS

Institution: UT Southwestern Medical Center

Brief biosketch: Parsia A. Vagefi, MD, FACS graduated with a B.A. in Biology from Johns Hopkins University, followed by medical school at Yale. Dr. Vagefi returned to MGH for his general surgery residency, followed by transplant surgery fellowship at UCSF.  In 2011 Dr. Vagefi joined the MGH staff, eventually serving as Associate Surgical Director of Liver Transplantation and Surgical Director of Living Donor Liver Transplantation. In January 2018 he joined the UT Southwestern team as the Division Chief of Surgical Transplantation, and currently holds the Ernest Poulos, MD Distinguished Chair in Surgery.

Spotlight Questions:

  1. Who was your earliest professional influence?

    I have been fortunate to have great mentors at various stages- from early on it was my parents teaching me the importance of finding something I loved to do that allowed me to serve the community. In medical school I was fortunate to work with a great surgeon-scientist Graeme Hammond- a pioneer in cardiothoracic transplantation- whose passion for transplant immunobiology inspired me to join David Sachs in Boston. That mentorship under David Sachs, and subsequently Ben Cosimi when I became a surgical resident, helped me realize my goal of becoming an abdominal transplant surgeon. I was then fortunate to spend two years in San Francisco where Nancy Ascher, John Roberts, and the rest of the UCSF team, molded me into the surgeon I am today.

  2. What are you most proud of personally/professionally?

    Personally- proud of my wife and our two amazing boys. 

    Professionally- proud of our UT Southwestern team, which I think is redefining the meaning of value-based care for complex patients and medicine as a whole.

  3. What is your favorite pastime/hobby?

    Running, preferably without a pager/cell phone. 

  4. If not transplant surgery, then what?

    Within the medical field- I can’t imagine being in a different specialty. Outside of medicine- there is a world of possibilities.

  5. What was the best piece of advice you have received?

    If you only have one idea, then you are in the wrong business.

  6. What’s your favorite drink?

    On call- alternate between coffee and diet coke. 
    Off-call- bourbon on ice in the company of good friends. 

  7. What’s your favorite movie?

    Godfather I

Dr. Paulo MartinsName: Paulo N. Martins MD, PhD, FAST, FEBS, FACS

Institution: University of Massachusetts

Brief biosketch: I am a multi-organ transplant surgeon at the University of Massachusetts. I grew up in Brazil, and obtained medical training in Brazil,  Germany, and USA. I obtained my PhD at the Charite'-University of Berlin- Germany in 2005 with summa cum laude, and did a post-doc fellowship at the  Brigham and Women's Hospital/Massachusetts General Hospital (Harvard   University) in the labs of Stefan Tullius/Mo Sayegh and Christian Leguern/David Sachs, respectively. I did a clinical transplant fellowship at the Massachusetts General Hospital between 2010-2012 and stayed there another year as an Instructor. In early 2013 I was recruited to work at the University of Massachusetts. 

My research has focused on organ preservation/ischemia reperfusion injury/graft treatment since I started my PhD in transplant immunology 17 years ago. I was fortunate to obtain several awards working in my mentors' lab and my own. In 2016, our work on DCD cholangiopathy obtained the ASTS Vanguard award for best publication. Currently, we are trying to find innovative ways to mitigate liver damage and organ repair by means of gene silencing with small interfering RNAs (RNA interference) inside nanoparticles during liver machine perfusion preservation. This pioneering research allowed me to obtain the 2018 Rising Star Award of the International Liver Transplant Society (ILTS) and the 2019 ASTS Rising StarAward, among other awards for me and my mentees, and a patent application. I also obtained the 2019 AST achievement award in Basic Science. In addition to basic science, I do outcome research in clinical liver transplantation. The UMass transplant team pioneered the intentional use of hepatitis C positive donors (including viremic donors) into hepatitis C negative liver recipients (first in April 2016) and this was featured in the NYT and NEJM. Currently, I have 80 peer-reviewed publications and 15 book chapters.

Spotlight Questions:

  1. Who was your earliest professional influence?

    My earliest professional influence was my father, also a surgeon. I was committed to be a surgeon since I was a child. He is a role model not only because of his profession but because of his resilience. He had an extremely disadvantaged background and taught me that if you study and work hard you can be whatever you dream of. He is 80 years old and still very sharp, working every day and still taking night calls. He never complains of anything. I was fortunate that in my career I had several good mentors, but one specifically that influenced me a lot was Stefan Tullius, MD PhD (BWH, Harvard Medical School). He was the one that influenced me to follow a career in Transplant Surgery and in Transplant Basic Science. When I was in my last year of medical school, I took an elective year in Germany and was just by chance in the Division of Transplant Surgery. I was fascinated with transplant Surgery and went back to Germany do my PhD years later. He was my PhD advisor back in Berlin, Germany. 
  2. What are you most proud of personally/professionally?

    I feel very privileged to have worked as a surgeon in three different countries. It is extremely difficult for a foreigner from a third world country to obtain training or work in USA and the whole process consumes most of your energy. It is extremely hard to obtain a job in liver transplantation even for American graduates/trainees. I have not only obtained that but much more. I always wanted to come to the USA but could not obtain funding and visa to study here. Because of that I went to study in Germany. I had to learn German and do a lot to obtain a medical license there. My first visa application to the USA to present a paper in a conference was denied without a reason and I was discouraged to ever apply again. Finally, I got an AST grant and came to the USA 13 years ago with broken English and an only one-year J1 research visa. During that year I had to prepare for all USMLE steps late evenings after coming back home from work. In 2015 I became a US citizen after obtaining a green card based on an outstanding researcher petition (EB1 national Interest waiver program). My story is real proof that the American dream is still possible when you work hard and never give up. The other thing that I am proud of is to have established a basic science transplant lab from scratch despite busy clinical activity and no protected time. 
  3. What is your favorite pastime/hobby?

    I love to be outdoors. I love hiking with my family. I also live on a lake and love boating, fishing, and water sports. I also enjoy trap shooting. 
  4. If not transplant surgery, then what?

    Despite the long hours and tough lifestyle, I have no regrets and would do it all over again. It is a great privilege to have the trust from a patient to do such risky operations. To be able to make a major impact on someone's life is priceless. But if not transplant surgery, I would do surgical oncology. After retiring I could work in a transplant lab/spin-off company and try to develop new therapies. 
  5. What was the best piece of advice you have received?

    "Never ever give up! Never take NO for an answer" 
  6. What’s your favorite drink?

    Mango Lassi 
  7. What’s your favorite movie?

    Cinema Paradiso / Schindler's List 

 

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Name: David C. Mulligan, MD, FAST, FAASLD, FACS

Institution: Yale University

Brief biosketch: I have enjoyed an amazing career thus far in solid organ  transplantation after residencies in both Urologic and General Surgery followed  by an American Society of Transplant Surgeons (ASTS) approved multiorgan transplant surgical fellowship at Baylor University in Dallas, TX under Dr. Goran Klintmalm. I received extensive experience in liver, kidney, and pancreas transplantation and carried that through a 15 year project to build one of the highest quality and largest transplant centers in the country at Mayo Clinic Arizona from no program and a brand new team to over 3,200 solid organ transplants covering kidney, pancreas, liver (adult and pediatric), heart, and a business plan for lung transplantation. I was fortunate to direct all these services while continuing to perform the abdominal transplants, hepatic, and pancreatic surgery. I was recruited to Yale University to transform a team with amazing research and small to medium size volume into one with outstanding outcomes and growth of transplants and research, which we have been accomplishing to date. My scientific and clinical research covers a broad array from basic science studies of ischemia/reperfusion injury and genomics of chronic allograft nephropathy to clinical modulation of immunosuppression to improve and extend organ function. I have established a lab with a team of PhD researchers under the direction of Greg Tietjen to utilize ex-vivo machine perfusion to evaluate and improve donor organ quality for kidney and liver transplantation. I have extensive experience in living donation, especially living donor liver transplantation, and have not only performed more than 200 living donor hepatectomies, but published our experiences and opinions. As a leader, I have the privilege of working in multiple roles within the ASTS, AASLD, AST, and UNOS/OPTN. My most current roles have been the Chair of the Business Practice Services Committee of the ASTS, Councilor-at-Large on the Board of Governors of the AASLD, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Transplantation to the Secretary of HHS, and President-elect of UNOS/OPTN.  

Spotlight Questions: 

  1. Who was your earliest professional influence?

     Hiram Polk, MD

  2. What are you most proud of personally/professionally?

    To be able to keep my family as the most important thing in my life and to lead and practice in a way that focuses on patient-centered care, kindness, and compassion.

  3. What is your favorite pastime/hobby?

    Traveling with my family.

  4. If not transplant surgery, then what?

    Computer science/programming or quantum physicist (I’m a nerd at heart).

  5. What was the best piece of advice you have received?

    Happiness is not about doing, it’s about being. Be present, be authentic, be connected to self and others, be at peace knowing that you tried your very best and learned from every experience.

  6. What’s your favorite drink?

    Coffee (keeps my engine going)

  7. What’s your favorite movie?

    There’s Something About Mary (to laugh), August Rush (inspirational), and any of the Marvel movies (action addict) 

KaufmanName:  Dixon B. Kaufman, MD, PhD

Institution: University of Wisconsin -Madison

Brief biosketch:  I am a native Midwesterner. I was born, raised and educated in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The University of Minnesota was where I obtained my undergraduate (1979) and medical school (1983) degrees. I received my General Surgery (GS) and Transplant Surgery Fellowship training there, as well.  During general surgery training, I was fortunate to have successfully competed for an NIH National Service Research Award (NRSA) that funded my 3-year research endeavor (1987-90) with Dr. David Sutherland. That led to my PhD degree in Surgery (only 2 post-graduate programs in the country had it at that time – Univ of Minn. and Duke Univ.).  Next, the last 2 months of my Chief year in GS training overlapped with the 16-month Tx Surgery Fellowship program at Minn. I finished September 1992 and started my faculty position, Assistant Professor of Surgery at Northwestern University, under the tutelage of Dr. Frank P. Stuart (Tx Surg Division Chief), and Dr. David L. Nahrwald (Surg Chair). I initiated the pancreas and islet transplant programs at Northwestern, helped build the clinical enterprise, and continued my basic and clinical research pursuits during my 19 -year tenure. In 2011, I was recruited to lead the transplant program at the University of Wisconsin as the Ray D. Owen Professor or Surgery and Chair of the Division of Transplantation. Forward . . .

Spotlight Questions:

  1. Who was your earliest professional influence?

    There were many. I had the good fortune of training during a highlight period in transplant surgery at the University of Minnesota. The attendings included John Najarian, Richard Simmons, David Sutherland, Nancy Ascher, William Payne, and Arthur Matas. My strongest connection was with Dave Sutherland. I studied in his islet transplant laboratory as a medical student (1982-3), and again during my NRSA award (1987-90). He is an amazing clinician-scientist who pioneered breakthroughs in islet (allo- and auto) and pancreas transplantation. During the time in his lab, he trained individuals around the world and pushed these fields forward as much as or more than anyone else.
  2. What are you most proud of personally/professionally?

    I grew up in a happy family and am proud to continue the happy family tradition, and it’s mostly because of my wonderful wife, Katina. All three of my children are college-aged and wonderful young adults—I am very proud of them. Professionally, I can’t imagine being in a more gratifying field and contributing to the art and science of transplant surgery. Someone said, “The noblest art is that of making people happy.” To me, that may be the essence of our art.
  3. What is your favorite pastime/hobby?

    I enjoy being active. Currently, I am biking quite a bit. My best sport is tennis. Growing up in the baby boom era it was all about neighborhood baseball, football, basketball and hockey (especially in Minn), so I played ‘em all. Skiing and golf (mediocre) are others.I also enjoy following collegiate (Big 10) and professional (Twins and Vikes, still) sports. I enjoy music. My current favorites are Mark Knopfler and Coldplay, and long-time favorites are Bob (my 5th cousin), and Frank Sinatra (unrelated).
  4. If not transplant surgery, then what?

    Role models play a critical part in an individual’s inclination to pursue a particular medical specialty. It’s enlightening to ask individuals in our profession, especially the senior members, about this. In my case, it was a neurosurgeon at the University of Minnesota. I was allowed to shadow him in clinic, on rounds, in the OR, and work his lab (before I attended medical school). So, that was my initial inclination and it reinforced my interest in surgery. My experience as a medical student in 1982 in Dave Sutherland’s islet transplant laboratory clinched it for wanting to pursue transplant surgery. If I had not pursued medicine, I may have gone a completely different route like filmmaking. Fortunately, differentiating the vocation from the avocation occurred.
  5. What was the best piece of advice you have received?

    I did not grow up or train in an era when purposeful mentoring and advice were received with much frequency. However, I have kept my reading glasses on and ears open to take in indirect advice. Truth be told, I keep a list of influential adages that make up my “Dixon’s Rules.” One of them goes something like this, “Take what you do seriously (and those around you), but don’t take yourself seriously.”
  6. What’s your favorite drink?

    It’s important to stay well hydrated – with water. In regard to the spiritual persuasion, I’d not turn down an offer of bourbon (Blanton’s or George T. Stagg, for example) – neat.
  7. What’s your favorite movie(s)?

    The most recent movie I have watched repeatedly is, “Darkest Hour.” For mind menders, “The Usual Suspects” and “The Prestige.” That’s also a common security question—the answer is, “Cool Hand Luke.”

Dr. Michael RizzariName: Michael D. Rizzar, MD

Institution: Henry Ford Transplant Institute

Brief biosketch: I grew up in Rochester, NY and went to college at the University of Dayton in Ohio, majoring in chemistry. I attended medical school at New York Medical College in Westchester, NY and was awarded my degree in 2006. I completed general surgery residency at the UT Southwestern/Parkland Memorial Hospital program from 2006-2013 and during residency I took a two-year research sabbatical to study aspects of organ preservation at the University of Minnesota from 2009-2011. Following residency, I completed a multi-organ transplant fellowship at the University of Wisconsin – Madison from 2013-2015. After Fellowship, I accepted a position at the Henry Ford Transplant Institute in Detroit, Michigan working under Marwan Abouljoud. I have a wide variety in my clinical practice, including laparoscopic donor nephrectomy and intestine and multivisceral transplant, but the vast majority of my work is liver transplant and hepatobiliary surgery. My research interests are in organ preservation and I am PI and co-PI on several studies involving normothermic machine perfusion of the liver.

Spotlight Questions:

  1. Who was your earliest professional influence?

    Early in medical school, Michael Marvin and Marcelo Facciuto worked under the direction of Patricia Sheiner to grow the liver transplant program at Westchester medical center. At this time, they needed extra hands to help with deceased donor procurements and I ended up doing quite a few with them. During this time, I also met James Guarrera and we did a few donors together, but he introduced me to hypothermic liver perfusion. I would say these four people were the driving force behind my interest in liver transplantation and organ preservation.

  2. What are you most proud of personally/professionally?

    We recently had a big 50-year anniversary celebration of the transplant institute, and many patients were invited back to celebrate with us. I think that we as surgeons and physicians can get so caught up in the day-to-day grind that it is easy to forget the big picture and our real motivations for doing what we do. But at this celebration some of my/our patients told their stories and how our interactions with them have impacted their lives. It was such a joy to hear how doing what I do on a daily basis can truly touch a patient and their family and transform their lives. I would say that this is what I have been most proud of lately.

  3. What is your favorite pastime/hobby?

    My wife and I love to spend time with our dogs and to travel. I also like to work out and enjoy alpine skiing. I am a big college football and ice hockey fan as well.

  4. If not transplant surgery, then what?

    I think I could have enjoyed orthopedics if we are talking about within medicine and surgery. Outside of that, I’m not quite sure. Most likely something to do with sports management or real estate.

  5. What was the best piece of advice you have received?

    Try to occasionally carve out some time to reflect on what has been happening in your life lately, how it is affecting you and to assess whether these things are or are not in line with your personal goals and agenda and use this information to envision and plan where you are going in the future. – Paraphrased advice from Marwan Abouljoud

  6. What’s your favorite drink?

    Non-alcoholic is ice water or the cherry-limeade flavor of a sparkling water. Favorite adult beverage is an old fashioned made with rye.

  7. What’s your favorite movie(s)?

    Too many to list, but I’ll try. Pulp Fiction, Miracle, Slapshot, Youngblood, Anchorman, Old School, Wedding Crashers, Goodfellas. The list goes on and on.