As a boy, Marc Levitt wanted to be a surgeon when he grew up. As a medical student, he loved the idea of pediatric surgery because the job involved building relationships with families. “Within the colorectal specialty, you might meet a newborn to fix a problem, meet them again as a 1-year-old, again as an older child, and then maybe again when a young girl has become a woman and is ready to have a baby. It can be a 25-year commitment to a patient,” says Dr. Levitt, now a world-leading pediatric colorectal surgeon at Children’s National Hospital. Among his considerable qualifications is the fact that he has performed more colon and rectal operations for children ― about 15,000 surgeries ― than any other practicing surgeon in the world.
Dr. Levitt has a vision for his patients: that they should live like regular kids. “Most of us take our colorectal systems for granted,” he says, “but there are children who struggle on a daily basis.” Recently, he heard from the family of a patient he had cared for 15 years before. The boy had Hirschsprung disease, which affects nerve cells in the colon, causing it to empty unreliably, and in some cases lead to frequent accidents. The patient, now a teenager, still had accidents which made him nervous about leaving home to attend college. He was a good candidate for a new anal sphincter reconstruction surgery that Dr. Levitt developed at Children’s National. Months after the successful surgery, the patient ― now a college freshman ― sent Dr. Levitt an email.
“He explained how the operation had converted him into a perfectly continent person, who had no accidents and he didn’t have to spend hours in the bathroom. He goes to class without worrying about accidents. He has a roommate. He travels, plays sports and has joined clubs,” says Dr. Levitt. “The colorectal field is all about quality of life. If we can get a patient here, we can get them better.”
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