A Special Bond
Saint Luke's heart transplant patient pays it forward to the cardiovascular surgeon and team that saved his life.
Dr. Michael A. Borkon (left) with his patient Kamal Mikhail
In this month dedicated to all things heart-related, it comes as no surprise that Kamal Mikhail is grateful that he, indeed, has a heart. And, in his words, he is “beyond grateful” for the transplant surgeon who gave him a new one almost five years ago. In fact, Mikhail not only bestows heaps of praise on Dr. A. Michael Borkon, but the entire staff of Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute.
“Little did I know that Saint Luke’s is in the top 10 in heart transplants in the nation and in the top 20 of heart clinics nationally,” Mikhail says. “And it’s right in our own backyard.”
Mikhail, 73, knows a thing or two about quality. He’s the chief operating officer and vice chairman of Continental Steel Fabrication and CEO of Soli Printing, owned by his wife, Mary Lynn. Together, the couple wants to pay back the folks at Saint Luke’s heart institute.
To that end, they have helped establish The Cardiac Surgery & Transplant Research Scholar Fund, which is dedicated to providing funding to support a full-time research scholar to assist the surgeons and physicians at the heart institute with transplant and surgery-related research. It’s all in an effort to make an essential investment in the next generation of cardiac/transplant surgeons and physicians. A recent “celebration of life and friendship” dinner raised more than $140,000.
In addition, Mikhail and his wife, who are co-chairs of the heart institute’s Ambassadors Group along with Dr. Tracy Stevens, medical director of the Saint Luke’s Muriel I. Kauffman Women’s Heart Center, have been instrumental in raising $1 million for building a future lodge for family members who travel to Kansas City for lifesaving transplants and heart care. Mikhail plans to call on other construction companies to donate their overhead and profit with the hope of building the lodge within five years.
For his part, Borkon is equally effusive in his praise for the Mikhails.
“There are times in life when paths cross for reasons that you can’t explain, but they turn out to be very special,” he says. “I think this is a remarkable couple. There are many things they do, not only in the business world but also personally for other folks. Charity begins with the heart, which is pretty apropos. Anybody can give money, but to give your time and yourself, that’s pretty special. And they are special.”
On April 21, 2012, Mikhail became the 540th patient to receive a new heart at Saint Luke’s, which started its transplant program in 1985. Borkon planned to reach 730 transplants by the end of 2016. When 1,000 heart transplants are reached, another huge celebration will happen.
The fact that Mikhail even got a heart was miraculous because he was so very sick. Other doctors had, basically, told him there was no hope. The cardiomyopathy he was diagnosed with in 2000 had caused too much damage to his heart.
“Time was running out,” Mary Lynn says. “He was on life support and wasn’t looking very good.”
But after Borkon examined Mikhail, he said a transplant was possible. Within 64 hours, a heart donor was found. Since then, a special bond has formed between the two men.
“We feel very, very blessed,” Mary Lynn says. “As we were hoping to get a heart, we also were completely conflicted for the other family who was going to donate that heart. Without donors we don’t have transplants. There needs to be a lot more awareness about that. We are very, very grateful for donors.”
Borkon, who is co-executive director of Saint Luke’s heart institute, director of cardiovascular surgery and surgical director of the heart transplant team, is passionate about giving lifesaving care to people like Mikhail.
“All of our members of the heart transplant cardiology team are heart-failure certified,” he says, referring to the eight cardiologists. “That’s key. That’s a rare designation. And we are consistently in the top 10 for volume and in the top 10 for survival-rate outcomes. We’re super proud of those numbers. This is a dream come true for me.”
Other accolades include the heart institute being among select facilities worldwide chosen for leading-edge clinical trials and a robust research program featuring two of the world’s most influential scientists.
“I did not understand the level of heart care at Saint Luke’s,” Mary Lynn admits. “We often think things are better far away. We don’t need to go to Cleveland. We don’t need to go to Mayo or Cedars-Sinai. We have the best in the world right here.”