Groundbreaking surgeon is the ideal Renaissance man
Dorry Segev performs historic surgeries by day, but that's just the beginning.
In March 2016, the first-in-the-world liver and kidney transplants between HIV-positive donors and recipients were performed at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center in Baltimore, where Dr. Dorry Segev led the pioneering surgical team. The door opened to such transplants in 2013, when the HIV Organ Policy Equity Act made them legal, thanks to the efforts of Segev. And it’s good news for the millions of HIV-positive people and the more than 122,000 patients on transplant waiting lists.
The Israel-born Segev recently spoke with From The Grapevine. “Once we ramp up, which may take a few years, we’ll be doing close to 1,000 of these transplants a year across the country and that means everyone who’s on an organ transplant waiting list who has HIV will be able to get transplanted,” he told us. He estimates that the risk of the operation and the success of the transplant will be about the same as with non-HIV-positive donor organs. It’s too early to give a prognosis, “But we can test for the things that can go wrong, and match the HIV strain and resistance pattern of the recipient and the donor.”
Right now, few hospitals are able to perform the surgery, so Segev is spearheading the training while recruiting HIV-positive donors. “We want to teach everyone across the country so we have as many hospitals as possible doing this. My goal is for this to have a national impact.”
Segev is also working on a way to make incompatible transplants possible by limiting the harmful antibodies that lead to rejection, which would widen the donor pool even farther and save many more people in need.
But revolutionizing the organ transplant system in America is only one of Segev’s many involvements and interests that include lecturing, mentoring jazz musicians, swing-dancing, competitive slalom waterskiing and photography, all part of his “parallel drives to contribute scientifically and artistically.”
A lifelong musician trained in classical piano who also plays guitar and sings and studied oboe and violin in his youth, Segev gives “one semi-serious performance a year on the piano” and hosts jam sessions at his home about once a month.
He and his wife, math professor Sommer Gentry, met at the American Swing Dance Championship and became partners, taking the fifth place title the following year. They founded a now-thriving swing dance community in Baltimore in 2005, where his Johns Hopkins colleagues and students get free entry to classes and dances.
Whenever they’re able, the Segevs fly to Boca Raton, Florida, to train with a coach in slalom waterskiing, which the doctor compares to “downhill skiing but on the water, it’s like dancing with a 3,000 pound boat.” He also travels the world to give lectures at transplant centers and teach about surgical innovations, which gives him the chance to indulge another passion: photography. Pictures shot on a recent trip to New Zealand are “amazing,” he says, adding that he recently bought a drone that enables him to shoot aerial photos from 400 feet above the ground.
Antarctica is the only continent Segev hasn’t visited, and he’d like to go; he also returns to Israel regularly to visit family. His parents moved from Israel to Chicago when he was 6 so his father could get his PhD at Northwestern University. “The world is so full of so many beautiful and interesting places that I could be happy exploring for the rest of my life. But it wouldn’t fulfill the drive that I have to do all the other things that I’m doing,” Segev tells us. Not surprisingly, he averages five hours sleep a night, “sometimes far less.”
Looking ahead, he hopes “to instill in young academics the desire to have a more renaissance perspective on the world. To inspire people brings me the most joy,” says Segev. Of all his accomplishments, “The thing I’m most proud of is the people that I’ve trained – my academic mentees, my dance students, people I’ve introduced to music, people I’ve taught photography. If you teach other people to do and love the things you love and do, the world becomes a better place exponentially.”
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