by Matt Batcheldor
Michael Rizzari, MD, has joined Vanderbilt University Medical Center as surgical director of Living Donor Liver Transplantation at the Vanderbilt Transplant Center and staff surgeon in Pediatric Abdominal Transplant Surgery at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.
Rizzari, associate professor of Surgery in the Division of Hepatobiliary Surgery and Liver Transplantation within the Department of Surgery, is a board-certified surgeon specializing in liver transplantation and hepatobiliary surgery. He comes to Vanderbilt from Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, where he was surgical director of Living Donor Liver Transplantation. He was also pediatric liver transplant surgery faculty at Children’s Hospital of Michigan and clinical assistant professor of Surgery at Wayne State University School of Medicine.
“I am thrilled to join the team at Vanderbilt because it allows me to collaborate with an outstanding group of colleagues who are striving to be the best in the world at what they do, and in many cases, they already are,” he said. “Their common goal of being one of the top transplant centers in the world deeply resonated with me, and I am so excited to be a part of it.”
Joseph Magliocca, MD, director of the Vanderbilt Transplant Center, said, “The Vanderbilt Transplant Center is fortunate to have recruited such a talented and well-respected living donor surgeon to continue to develop its living donor liver transplant program. Under Dr. Rizzari’s guidance, I am certain that Vanderbilt will continue the tradition of providing the highest quality, cutting-edge care to our transplant patients.”
VUMC’s modern living donor liver transplant program began in 2019. The program allows relatives and friends to donate part of their livers to their loved ones, something only possible at select centers in the country. The resulting partial livers in the donor and recipient regenerate to become fully functional organs, typically within six to 12 weeks. The program’s first living donor liver transplant — a man who donated to his mother — occurred in March 2020.
A living liver donation gives the recipient the opportunity to receive an organ sooner and increases the supply of available organs. People on the transplant list regularly wait months to years to receive an organ from a deceased donor. With a compatible living donor, a transplant patient may receive a live donor liver within weeks.
“Our live donors are very special people, and for someone to volunteer to have an operation that they do not medically need in order to save another person’s life is truly a remarkable thing,” he said. “I am very humbled and grateful that the donors would entrust our team at Vanderbilt to provide this very specialized care.”
In addition to living donor liver transplant, Rizzari’s clinical specialties include adult and pediatric liver transplantation, hepatobiliary surgery, organ preservation, and machine perfusion.
His research interests have centered on the use of normothermic machine perfusion, new technology that allows organs to be preserved at normal body temperatures instead of the traditional cold storage. The technique, which perfuses the organ with oxygenated blood and oxygen, allows organs to be preserved longer before transplantation, potentially increasing the pool of available organs and improving outcomes for organ recipients.
He helped to initiate the normothermic machine perfusion program at Henry Ford Hospital, and his associated research examined organs seen as marginal for transplantation, including those considered for donation after circulatory death. The potential expanded use of such marginal organs, improved by perfusion techniques, has great promise to expand the number of donor organs.
He received his medical degree from New York Medical College, completed his internship and subsequent residency in general surgery at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and completed a multi-organ transplant surgery fellowship at the University of Wisconsin.
Rizzari is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons. His memberships include the International Liver Transplantation Society, Americas Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary Association, and American Society of Transplant Surgeons.