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Road to Recovery
Finishing the New York City Marathon marked a miraculous comeback from a life-threatening battle with COVID-19 for one of the world’s top transplant surgeons.
Dan Cook | Editor-in-Chief
Publish Date: December 6, 2021   |  Tags:   COVID-19
Kato Marathon
MIRACLE MILES Dr. Kato didn’t think he’d return to long distance running when even short walks were difficult to complete.   |   All photos provided by New York-Presbyterian/Columbia Hospital

The early November morning broke cool and clear, a perfect day for the 50th running of the New York City Marathon. Tomoaki Kato, MD, MBA, FACS, stretched with nervous energy among a gaggle of runners gathered at the starting line, a place he had stood seven times before. But this day was different. Much different. That he was preparing to run 26.2 miles through the five boroughs of New York was nothing less than a miracle. Five hours, 38 minutes and 52 seconds later, Dr. Kato would cross the finish line in Central Park, less than 10 miles from New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, where he saves the lives of countless patients as the surgical director of liver and gastrointestinal transplantation — and where he nearly lost his own a year earlier.

Dr. Kato, 56, felt the crisp fall air fill his lungs as the race began, his surprisingly quick pace and adrenaline allowing him to tick off the first several miles in Staten Island with relative ease. He was nearly overcome with joy as he looked around at the sun-splashed towers of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge and the funnel of cheering New Yorkers through which he ran. He couldn’t have imagined the scene a year-and-a-half earlier when he tested positive for COVID-19 and spent nine weeks in the hospital at death’s door.

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