Newswise — DALLAS – Feb. 22, 2023 – As a child in Beirut, Ahmad Anouti, M.D., endured dozens of medical procedures, hundreds of medications, and numerous setbacks before a liver transplant at age 16 saved his life.
Today, Dr. Anouti is a postdoctoral research fellow at UT Southwestern Medical Center specializing in hepatology, which is the study of the liver. He’s also an advocate for organ transplantation and strives to raise awareness of UT Southwestern and the work being done by its Division of Digestive and Liver Diseases.
“The Liver Transplant Program is not just phenomenal, but many breakthrough techniques are being done at UTSW, such as living-donor liver transplants and machine perfusion of livers,” he said.
Since he arrived in Dallas in 2022, Dr. Anouti has also been involved with advocacy work on behalf of UT Southwestern and other groups to encourage organ donations. He is a member of the American Liver Foundation (ALF), a committee member of the ALF Biliary Atresia board, a member of the Global Liver Institute, and a member of Biliary Atresia Research and Education.
“My sickness has been my biggest blessing,” Dr. Anouti said. “It gave me direction in my life, and now as a physician, has put me in a unique position to really be an advocate for my patients.”
At 11 weeks old, Dr. Anouti was diagnosed with biliary atresia, a congenital condition in which the tubes that carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder fail to form correctly. The resulting blockage causes bile to build up and destroy liver cells. He was treated at the American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC), where he was believed to be the center’s first patient to undergo what’s known as the Kasai procedure. During the procedure, the blocked bile ducts and gallbladder are removed and replaced with the small intestine.
Biliary atresia is a rare disease. Without surgery, children usually do not live past age 2 without a liver transplant. Many children who have the surgery still experience liver damage over time.
When Dr. Anouti entered his teens, he was diagnosed with hepatopulmonary syndrome, which affects the lungs. It is a late complication of biliary atresia in patients who have developed liver cirrhosis. By the time he turned 16, he needed continuous oxygen therapy.
Dr. Anouti received a liver transplant abroad days before his 17th birthday, and soon after, he finished high school. The challenges continued, however. He developed acute organ rejection followed by post-transplant lymphoproliferative disorder, a life-threatening complication of anti-rejection medication. He recovered and ultimately graduated from medical school at the American University of Beirut in May 2022.
Some people discouraged Dr. Anouti from becoming a physician because he would need immunosuppressants for the rest of his life. They believed he could put his health at risk when treating ill patients. But he refused to give up his dream.
“Once I got sick, I started seeing all these gaps in the medical field and wanted to do something about it,” Dr. Anouti said. “I understand patients and the pain they are going through with all the tests and procedures and unanswered questions.”
His determination to be a researcher and clinician led Dr. Anouti to UT Southwestern, where his story has inspired both patients and faculty.
“Dr. Anouti is providing hope and leadership to a very sick and vulnerable population of young patients by drawing on his own incredible personal story,” said Thomas Cotter, M.D., Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine. “It has been inspirational to listen to him relate his own experiences, showing patients that there is light at the end of the tunnel as they begin to embark on their transplant journey.”
Dr. Anouti’s passion for helping others makes him a unique asset. “He can bridge the gap between physician-scientists and patients, given his own personal experiences as both a patient and a provider,” said Lisa VanWagner, M.D., M.Sc., Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and Director of Clinical Research in the Division of Digestive and Liver Diseases.
His experience from liver failure to transplantation to post-transplant complications mirrors that of so many patients, said William M. Lee, M.D., Professor of Internal Medicine and a renowned specialist in liver disease. “He will be a fantastic guide/advocate for so many in the future,” Dr. Lee said.
UT Southwestern is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 40 hospitals in the country for gastroenterology and GI surgery. UTSW performed the most liver transplants in North Texas for three years in a row while maintaining the highest one-year survival rate in the region.
Dr. Lee holds the Meredith Mosle Chair in Liver Disease in Honor of Dr. William M. Lee.
Dr. Anouti’s position is funded by the Lawrence L. and Terry P. Tobin Fund for Liver Disease Research in Honor of Dr. William M. Lee and the Jeanne Roberts Fund, both of which are part of the Southwestern Medical Foundation.
About UT Southwestern Medical Center
UT Southwestern, one of the nation’s premier academic medical centers, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has received six Nobel Prizes, and includes 24 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 18 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 14 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators. The full-time faculty of more than 2,900 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide care in more than 80 specialties to more than 100,000 hospitalized patients, more than 360,000 emergency room cases, and oversee nearly 4 million outpatient visits a year.