“He brought his culture of innovation with him,” said Dr. Emond. “And his personal abilities, his ability to work long hours, never giving up, never giving up, no matter how difficult the situation is, performing 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 that other hospitals couldn’t or wouldn’t do. He had also traveled to Venezuela to perform liver transplants for children and train local surgeons in the procedure, 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 anxiety. 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 couldn’t get there. He saw the white light that some people describe after near-death experiences. “I felt like I was dead,” he said.
He had spent much of his adult life in hospitals, but never as a patient.
“I never got sick,” he said. “I never faced the reality of death.”