Mike Katz has spent thousands of hours in the operating room managing the care of tens of thousands of patients over the course of his career as a surgeon and anesthesiologist. They come from all walks of life, from the tiniest infants to frail centenarians, wealthy to the very poor living under a bridge, and immigrants from CEOs to the woman mopping the floors. They may appear to be starkly different, but they share something more important—their humanity. And when they are facing surgery, they share the fear that they will not see their loved ones again, Mike has been there with a steady hand, explaining the risks and the procedures taken to manage those risks to the patient and their family. He never lost a patient in his 18 years in the operating room.
To Mike, the divisiveness in our country right now is like a cancer eating away at the body of our nation. And to address the critical issues we face, like access to healthcare and climate change, we must come together like the team that gathers in the operating room, guided by the values of honesty and integrity.
Michael S. Katz is a physician, entrepreneur, family man and man of faith. Throughout his life Mike has always looked for ways to help other people—from helping his dad clean offices when he was eight years old to getting legislation passed to allow leftover food from cafeterias and organizations to be donated to the needy in the community instead of being thrown away.
Coming from a working-class family Mike saw medicine as the best way he could help others. After graduating from Georgetown University School of Medicine in 1989 Mike moved into pediatric anesthesiology with a fellowship with Harvard Medical School’s Boston Children’s Hospital, followed by clinical and teaching roles at Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware. Mike and his wife, Patricia, started a family and settled into the community.
Anxieties run high with any prospect of surgery, but when it is a child the anxiety of the parents is through the roof. There was a one-year-old girl in the ICU who had a very large mass in her neck that was obstructing her airway. When she was brought into the operating room her throat was practically closed. There was one chance to insert the air tube that would save her life—and it had to be done while she was awake. Her parents were huddled in the waiting area, worried and fearful. When Mike approached and said, “We got it in,” they cried. He didn’t know them before that moment but years later he saw the little girl, who had been given a chance to live.
Making an Impact
After years in the operating room Mike Katz began tackling broader issues that affected patient care. Hospitals—especially operating rooms—can be terribly inefficient. He took on more management roles at DuPont, conducting a series of studies that focused on ways to improve patient care while optimizing hospital resources. In 2000 he received an M.B.A. from Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business. The healthcare industry was undergoing tremendous change at the time, with new technologies and medications offering opportunities to rethink how medical services were delivered.
The following year he took the advantage of these developments and founded an anesthesiology services company as a complement to the newly emerging outpatient surgery centers. Patients love coming to the centers. The waiting room is calmer, they can park outside, and each patient is attended to from the moment they walk in until they head home. Mike built and managed the business, growing it to provide perioperative care to more than 30,000 patients a year.
In 2008 Mike won a seat in Delaware’s State Senate, where he worked to root out corruption and make government work for the best interests of the state’s citizens. In the face of stiff opposition, he pushed through his committee a bill to legalize LGBTQ civil unions making Delaware one of first states to pass a civil union bill. Bucking many in power he restructured the Delaware Health Information Network, a searchable database of patient medical records and history, whose administration was rampantly corrupt into a self-sustaining public-private partnership.
When a Delaware pediatrician who had molested children as young as three months old was prosecuted the state legislature went into overdrive to toughen oversight of the state's medical practitioners, Mike provided valuable input as the only physician in the General Assembly and served as the liaison to the medical community. After passing a package of bills, Delaware was ranked first in the nation for comprehensive legal protections for patients, especially children.
Mike negotiated an agreement between Delaware and Pennsylvania that solved a long-standing infrastructure problem, confronted entrenched politicians about conflicts of interest, and irritated those in power so much that he was gerrymandered out of his seat during redistricting.
On December 28, 2010, while skiing in Maine with his family, the cable on the chairlift Mike was riding slipped off the track. He plunged to the ground. His daughters, who were in the chair behind him, also fell. He and his daughter Abigail were taken down the mountain in a sled. He thought he had a torn aorta. Lying on the ground he could only think of his family. On the phone with his wife he reported “not doing well,” and instructed her to get the girls to the hospital. He sustained injuries to his spine, a head injury, punctured lung, blood in his chest, and massive bruising all over his body. His daughter Abigail had multiple fractures to her spine; both she and her sister Emily had head injuries. It took three months of healing and rehabilitation before his daughters could return to school. Despite his own injuries Mike was back in the Senate by the third week in January.
Everything Michael Katz has done has been a fight. The fight for his life only made him more thankful for his family and aware that every day is a gift.