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Brandeisian in the operating room

By Charlotte Aaron

Section: Features

March 10, 2017

As is a common theme among Brandeis students, Dr. Sander Florman ’89, now director of the Recanati/Miller Transplantation Institute at Mount Sinai Medical Center, was a student of many interests during his time as an undergraduate at Brandeis.

While he managed to complete all the pre-medicine requirements and earn a letter of recommendation for medical school, he was a philosophy major, equally interested in attending law school after graduation as he was in attending medical school.

As graduation neared, Florman took both the LSAT and the MCAT, unsure of which direction he wanted to take his career. After getting into law school and medical school, he had a tough decision to make. “I decided ultimately that if I went to medical school and didn’t like it I could probably still go to law school, but if I went to law school and didn’t like it, I would not be as eager to go to medical school, so I went to medical school!” Florman exclaimed.

Although dual degrees have become more common among universities today, Florman explained that while he was a student, it was unusual for universities to offer its students such academic liberty. “It’s made me a better person and a better doctor to be a philosophy major, and I never in a million years thought I would have pursued that. I think Brandeis allowed me the diversity and the opportunity to pursue things I never thought I would pursue, and I’ve always appreciated that,” Florman said.

While Florman’s range of interests exemplified the Brandeis academic experience, his Friday flower sales in the student center captured the spirit of the student body. “Every Friday, there was a wholesale flower place not far from Waltham. We’d go and buy them and sell them in the student center,” Florman explained. “It was fun. All my roommates got free flowers, and I made some money!”

The Friday flower sale, while run by Florman in his time at Brandeis, was a tradition that had been started at least 10 years before his time at the university and a tradition he passed down after he graduated.

Just as selling flowers on Friday, one of his earlier job experiences, was a job he found much joy in, Florman emphasized that he ended up becoming a transplant surgeon simply by doing what he loved. “I was always taught do what you love and it won’t feel like work, and it’s been true ever since,” he stated.

While his time in medical school, surgical residency and then additional schooling to earn a focus in transplants resulted in 12 additional years of education after his Brandeis graduation, Florman believes it was well worth it. “I find [it] very inspiring. Transplant is about hope. Transplant is about second chance and restoring functional life,” he explained. “It’s very gratifying to be in the field.”


  • The kidneys serve two functions: They get rid of water, and they get rid of toxins. When the kidneys do not function, toxins build up and make individuals feel sick, food taste differently and work difficult.
  • Dialysis replaces only about 10 percent of kidney function, but that requires going to the dialysis unit three days a week, four hours each time—“It’s kind of a brutal life,” Dr. Florman said.
  • The most common reasons for a kidney transplant include high blood pressure and diabetes. Other causes include congenital disorders, infections and trauma. It is the most common of all the transplants.
  • There are about 90,000 people in the United States waiting for a kidney transplant, and there are only about 14,000 transplants from deceased donors each year. On average, there are about 6,000 to 7,000 living donors each year. “The harsh reality is that a majority of them will never get one because the three-year mortality on dialysis is almost 50 percent,” Dr. Florman said.
  • The wait to get a kidney in Massachusetts is about seven to 10 years.
  • Kidneys from deceased donors last, on average, seven years. Kidneys from living donors last, on average, 15-20 years. Donors can be as young as 18 and as old as 75. If a kidney donor ends up with kidney failure, a national rule allows the individual to go to the top of the transplant list and receive the next kidney.
  • Even if a donor is not the same blood type of the person they want to donate to, they can be involved in a kidney swap with another donor-recipient pair that does not match.
  • The process to remove a kidney from a donor is done laparoscopically. The surgery takes two to three hours, and the patients can go home the next day and are back at work within a couple of weeks. “It’s very safe to give a kidney. The risk of death is one in 10,000 … the same chances of dying giving birth in the United States,” Dr. Florman said.
  • The operation for transplant recipients is a small incision in the groin area that takes two to three hours. The recovery usually includes three to four days in the hospital, but then they are off dialysis, which significantly elongates the recipient’s life. “You’ll live better, you’ll live longer, and you’ll enjoy your life. People have done just about anything you could imagine,” including playing in the NBA and running marathons. “You can go back to a very productive and normal life,” Florman said.

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