Transplant surgeon uses song to lift spirits

Latifa Sage Silski_Large

We don’t generally think of a song as being one of a surgeon’s tools.

But for transplant surgery fellow Latifa Sage Silski, MD, music and humor are important when coping with the demands of her profession.

By its nature, transplant surgery is an emotional rollercoaster ride – the sorrow that comes from the end of one person’s life is balanced by hope and joy at the chance to save another person or improve multiple lives.

“Some days, it can be a challenge,” Sage Silski says of her work at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “Like a great deal of medicine, the daily routine envelops the care providers in both great sorrows and amazing joys. Transplant has those extremes in a single day.

“When we rescue organs from patients who can no longer be saved, you witness the tragedy and limitations of medical intervention. On a day that one family is suffering through great sorrow, somehow they find a way to see through that sorrow to offer strangers a chance at life again.”

For Sage Silski, that process starts when Lifeline of Ohio contacts her with a donor offer. After she’s confirmed that no significant medical changes have occurred in the potential recipient(s), she helps coordinate when the recipient should be admitted, confirms that they’re a good match for the organ and coordinates operating room schedules, all while keeping the attending transplant surgeon up to speed on any changes that may impact the surgery.

It’s stressful work and can require Sage Silski to remain in the hospital for days at a time.

To keep her spirits up and bolster patients and medical staff, she might sing a few lines from a Broadway musical as she works:

I'm through accepting limits
Cuz someone says they're so
Some things I cannot change
But till I try, I'll never know


At other times, the songs are more humorous and tailored to a certain situation.

Latifa Sage Silski_Secondary“I have a word association singing problem,” she says. “The songs are situational, sometimes with a comedic twist. ‘Hit me with your best shot’ for some nurses’ questions. ‘Defying Gravity’ (from ‘Wicked’) for the days that seem to have too much to carry. ‘Stay ... just a little bit longer’ when convincing a patient that staying in the hospital may be beneficial while we are working out the details to get to a rehabilitation center.”

Sage Silski also supervises post-surgical care and works with transplant patients returning to the hospital for follow-up care. There too, music plays a role.

During complicated or uncomfortable procedures, she’ll play music the patients pick out.

“I ask what music patient's listen to on a sunny day in the car,” she says.

“Patients have a tremendous amount of strength, bravery and reserve,” she says. “They will fight for additional seconds, minutes and years to spend with their loved ones.

“Often, people just want to know that we are on their side.”

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