In the past 25 years, Kam has reinvented the university’s transplant services, transplanting some 1,800 livers, 3,000 kidneys and 150 pancreases. He performed the first "adult to adult" live donor liver transplant in the Western world. One-year survival rates after liver transplants stand at 85 percent nationally; at the University of Colorado they are 90 percent.
Kam wants to see the program continue to grow, and he describes himself as someone who is “still learning, trying to push the envelope.” Sitting in his spacious Anschutz Medical Campus office, with its panoramic view of the Front Range Rocky Mountains, Kam remembers that he started at the old Ninth Avenue and Colorado Boulevard campus, sharing a desk with a secretary.
“What I learned is that no one would hand anything to us on a silver tray,” he said. “We had to push, push, push to achieve recognition and grow. We had to convince the university, the hospital and the medical school to understand the need, take the challenge and support our success.”
On a warm July morning, Kam has come straight out of the operating room, and he is still wearing surgical scrubs. He barely has time to exhale before a cell phone rendition of the theme from the movie, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” makes further conversation impossible. Kam pulls out his phone, answers the call and, for the next several minutes, mostly listens. Occasionally, he interrupts with a brief comment or question:
“I don’t know enough about this donor.”
“What more can you tell me?”
After the conversation ends, he offers an explanation: “I didn’t say ‘No’ to the organs, because I don’t want to miss an opportunity. But we can’t accept bad organs, and we don’t.”
Asked about his ringtone, he smiles. “I like [“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”] as a sound,” he said. “With transplants, you need something that will wake you up at night.”
Kam is quick to point out that he is not the only person who is getting up in the middle of the night to handle the 247 demands of transplant surgery. As medical director of the Transplant Program, he heads a team that includes transplant surgeons, operating room and intensive care unit nurses, nephrologists, hepatologists, anesthesiologists, pathologists, radiologists, transplant coordinators, social workers, psychologists, financial counselors and support staff.
“I’m blessed with an excellent team, a stable team,” said Kam. “That’s why we’re so successful.”
Zeschin attributes his great transplant experience to the transplant team. “Transplants don’t just help people survive for a few more years,” he said. “There’s no reason people can’t live for another 30 to 40 years. [The university] has put together a team that supports that