Meet the Doctor: Radi Zaki, MD
Radi Zaki, MD, a transplant surgeon, is the Robert G. Somers, MD, Chair of the Department of Surgery at Einstein Healthcare Network. A member of the Einstein staff since 1999, he practices at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia. Dr. Zaki is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons and a Philadelphia magazine Top Doctor.
We spoke with Dr. Zaki recently about his career, his interests, and transplant and liver surgery at Einstein.
Q: Why did you decide to become a doctor?
A: I guess I really didn’t. I was going to be a veterinarian and my life course just changed. It’s mainly because of my father and my grandmother. They both died of bile duct cancer, so that’s probably what caused me to become a doctor, and to specialize in liver disease and liver cancers.
Q: Tell us about your medical education.
A: Well, I was born in Egypt. I went to medical school at the University of Cairo. Then I did my residency in New York Medical College in New Rochelle and my fellowship in abdominal organ transplantation here at Einstein.
Q: Why did you choose your specialty? How did you go from wanting to treat liver cancer to becoming a transplant surgeon?
A: Within transplant, you do a lot of liver, kidney and pancreas transplants, but most of my interest was in liver transplant. And liver transplant is how you treat a lot of liver cancers. You also do a lot of liver surgery to remove the cancers in people that don’t necessarily need a transplant.
Q: What drew you to Einstein?
A: It was a mutual friend that did their residency at Einstein and told me they had a good transplant fellowship here. After I completed my residency, in 1999, I went back to New York for a year to a job at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan, which is where I was from. And then, within six months, Dr. Robert Somers, the Chief of Surgery, called me and said he wanted me to come back.
Q: Why did you come back?
A: It was a natural fit for me. I liked the people, I liked the city and it worked well. I liked the population, too. I like this population very much.
Q: How much of the surgery you do is on the liver specifically?
A: I would say 90%. Most are liver transplants, but also liver resections and cancer resections.
Q: Why should people choose Einstein for liver transplant care?
A: We’re the only five-tier liver program in the state. We get that designation from something called the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients. They look at your outcomes and your indicators and give you a rating. We have a five-tier rating in terms of our outcomes. We have the best outcomes in the city and the state, we have a very stable staff and an incredible workflow – better than Penn Medicine, better than Jefferson Health.
Q: What’s new with liver transplant care at Einstein?
A: We’re very innovative in transplantation of hepatitis C-positive livers to hep-C-negative patients. There’s a shortage of livers compared to patients that need transplant, and we know that the earlier we can get them transplanted, the better their survival will be. A significant number of people die of overdose, and a lot of those overdose patients are younger, relatively healthy, and have hepatitis C. And with the advent of hep C treatment, hepatitis C can be eradicated very efficiently and quickly.
So we can use those organs for people that have liver disease from something else, not from hepatitis C, and transplant them with an organ with hep C. After a successful transplant, then we need to treat their hepatitis C because the organ will transmit it to them. We treat them and have had excellent results. So you expand the transplant pool for them and expand their options.
We do probably 76 liver transplants a year, and we’ve done close to 38 or 40 patients with hep C-positive livers in the last year and a half, so it’s a big number.
Q: Tell me about your interests outside of work.
A: Besides family, I really don’t know. I have two kids, a 14-year-old son and a 16-year-old daughter. My son is starting high school. And my daughter’s becoming a junior in high school. And I have a wife. I won’t tell you how old she is.
Oh, and I’m a big cat lover. We have four cats: Quincy, Bebe, Franklin and Darwin. Franklin and Darwin are Scottish folds. They’re the cats with the ears pinned back on their head. Did you ever see how prairie dogs stand? The Scottish folds do that all the time.
Quincy is what’s called a Maine coon. He’s enormous, at least 25 pounds. He’s like a small dog. The Scottish folds are tiny. And Darwin’s a rescue cat.
Q: Did you have an early role model?
A: Yes, Dr. Somers. I always wanted to emulate him in the sense that he was a patient-centric physician. He loved his patients and he stressed the fact that we do this just for them and not our ego or our personal gain. The most important thing is their care, and in today’s medicine that gets very diluted and skewed. Dr. Somers is why I came back, and I consider him my mentor.
Q: Do you have a favorite sports team?
I’m a huge Sixers fan. We’re a Sixers family. That’s our big thing. We go to maybe 14, 15 games a year.
Q: Do you have a favorite movie?
I would say The Godfather, I and II. Three’s not that good. Oh, and I know another one, Best in Show. I love that movie. It’s about dogs, but it’s a good movie.
Q: Do you have a favorite vacation spot?
A: I guess the Jersey shore. We usually go to Avalon.
Q: Is there a person that you’d particularly like to meet?
A: Probably former President Barack Obama. He’s fascinating.
Q: What is something most people don’t know about you?
A: As I said, I’m a huge cat person. I try to train them and they do tricks and stuff like that. Mainly Quincy. He’ll respond and he’ll go where I ask him to go. If I retired, I would want to rescue cats and take care of cats.