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Why Transplant Surgery?

Trying to figure out what kind of doctor you should become? Wondering which specialty you should choose? Then SheMD's Why Specialty Series is perfect for you! We're bringing you female physicians sharing WHY they chose their specialty. Today's post is on why Dr. Matemavi chose transplant surgery and why it is a great field.

As a transplant surgeon you have an intimate relationship with death, you see death often- but then you also have an intimate relationship with life like no other physician.

Becoming a surgeon was my ultimate dream. I grew up in Zimbabwe and when I was around 7 years old, a group from Loma Linda came to Zimbabwe to do pediatric congenital heart surgeries at Parirenyatwa Hospital. I had decided I wanted to be a doctor when I was 4 years old, so when my dad brought home an article titled, “LLU Heart Team Mends and Reaches Hearts,” I was intrigued. Right then I decided I wanted to be a cardiothoracic surgeon when I grew up. I have always been an avid reader and my father often bought me medical books or physician biographies. I was a teenage mother and that had resulted in a detour in my timeline for college and medical school.

I started medical school the day I turned 25 and at that time I was a single mom with a 6 year old daughter and a 4 year old son. I knew it would be difficult, but I could not imagine myself doing anything else with my life.

I discovered transplant surgery during my second year of medical school. One of my professors mentioned to me that liver transplantation was one of the coolest surgeries he had ever seen. He had noticed the book I was reading and inquired about it. The book was "Walk on Water: The Miracle of Saving Children’s Lives” by Michael Ruhlman, which focuses on a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon and his team. I had just read "King of Hearts: The True Story of the Maverick who Pioneered Open Heart Surgery" by G. Wayne Miller and I was continuing with my heart obsession. I had read all the books I could find on heart surgeons or the history of heart surgery. After getting pregnant at eighteen, I switched my major from pre-medicine to nursing and by the time I started medical school I had worked as a cardiac nurse for 3 years. I was preparing myself for a long career in cardiac surgery!

That night when I got home I ordered "The Puzzle People" by Thomas Starzl, the father of liver transplantation and from then on I was hooked. I read everything I could find on transplant surgery. I was fascinated and just knew that was what I wanted to do with my life.

One of my mentors likens transplant surgery to OB/GYN because these are the only specialties where patients are happy to come to the hospital, our unpredictable hours are similar, and we get to witness new life. 

My most favorite part of training was whenever we did a multivisceral transplant or small bowel transplant- at the time of reperfusion, the small bowel turns pink like a blooming flower and comes to life. There is nothing like it!

It’s an extremely humbling profession and also very rewarding. To me every transplant is a miracle. The journey to become a transplant surgeon involves 5-7 years of general surgery training and 2 years of abdominal transplant surgery fellowship.

My Top Five Reasons for Why Transplant Surgery:

1. You get to be part of the miracle of the gift of life and see death transform into life.

2. You get to be a super general and vascular surgeon. It is safe to say no one knows abdominal anatomy like a transplant surgeon!

3. Transplant surgery is a fairly new field but has grown significantly since the first transplant in 1954. There are so many research opportunities in transplant- including basic science research, immunology, or studying outcomes.

4. Imagine the joy of helping someone come off of dialysis and giving them back control of their life, curing a patient's diabetes, saving a life with a new liver or part of a liver, or changing someone's life by liberating them off TPN with a small bowel transplant. These surgeries have the power to both save, and change lives.

5. You get to fly all over the country and experience different hospital systems, meet different health care professionals and eat fine cuisine on a private jet!

Bonus: Multidisciplinary team!

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