2019 Top Doctor: Elbert Y. Kuo

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Photography by Steve Craft
Photography by Steve Craft

Thoracic Disease

Med School/Year Graduated: Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, 2001

Years in Practice: 9

What inspired you to pursue a specialty in thoracic surgery?

While in college, I worked with a thoracic surgeon named Dr. Mathisen in Boston during the summers. I was inspired by the impact he was able to make on patients and their families. He combined amazing technical skill with great bedside manner and became an inspiration for me.

As a thoracic surgeon, you generally treat diseases of the lungs and chest. But could you also bust in there and do some heart surgery if need be?

While both in the chest cavity, thoracic and heart surgery are very different and complex. Each requires a unique skill set and knowledge base. I am technically board-certified in heart surgery, but I leave that to doctors [who] specialize in the heart.

What is the main difference between a thoracic surgeon and a cardiovascular surgeon?

A thoracic surgeon focuses on lung, esophageal and mediastinal tumors as well as benign diseases of the chest, whereas a cardiovascular surgeon focuses on the blood vessels in the body and heart.

In the U.S., someone dies of lung cancer once every five minutes. That’s a pretty depressing stat. Has there been any progress?

Oh, definitely. With early detection through lung cancer screening and new surgical and oncological treatments, we’re able to find and treat lung cancer faster and more effectively. In addition, through coordination of care and doctors working together, we are able to… reduce the time from diagnosis to treatment. Lung cancer is a survivable disease, and we can beat it.

Which are the “easiest” thoracic procedures and which are the most challenging?

The great thing about thoracic surgery is the diverse range of case complexity. It is exciting to do some operations that take one hour and others that take over eight hours. An example of a quick operation is a wedge resection of the lung, and then a six- to eight-hour operation is a minimally invasive esophagectomy where we remove the esophagus and reconstruct it by pulling the stomach [up] in the chest. We usually do that operation for esophageal cancer.

Your bio says you enjoy boating and fishing. So: fly or reel? What’s the biggest fish you’ve hooked?

I enjoy rainbow trout fishing in Sedona, striped bass fishing at Lake Pleasant and salmon and halibut fishing in Alaska. However, the thing I enjoy most about fishing is spending time with my family and sharing the experience with my wife, son and daughter.

What’s your favorite place to camp in Arizona?

Cave Springs Campground in Sedona. We go every summer with friends. We love hiking, cooking by the campfire, camping games and catching up with friends. Life moves fast, and it is great to take some time to slow down in nature.

“If I wasn’t a doctor, I’d be…”

I’d be a grill master. I really enjoy grilling and smoking meats for friends and family. It’s not only fun to cook the food, but it is always great to hang out with friends and enjoy what we made.

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