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Patient, Kathy Fiandaca, stands alongside her longtime physician Daniel R. Ganger, MD, at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
Patient, Kathy Fiandaca, stands alongside her longtime physician Daniel R. Ganger, MD, at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Celebrating a Longtime Patient-Physician Relationship

Patient and Physician Share a Special Bond Decades After Liver Transplant

When Kathy Fiandaca, from Midlothian, Illinois, met Daniel R. Ganger, MD, nearly 30 years ago, she was a single mom who had been told her liver would fail by the time she was 30. He was a young transplant hepatologist who looked her in the eyes as she shared her worst fear — that her baby girl would grow up without a mother. From the start, Dr. Ganger listened to his patient, but there was no arguing with him when it came to her future: She’d get a new liver, she’d be healthy and she’d watch her daughter grow into adulthood.

The path to getting a new liver was challenging. Today, at 58, Kathy still remembers the worst moments before she received her transplant, when autoimmune hepatitis and primary biliary cirrhosis had ravaged her liver. She can still vividly recall the surgeries, the medications and the times when she was too weak to care for her child like she wanted to. But more than anything, she remembers Dr. Ganger pushing her to go on.

“He just took me under his wing, and if it wasn't for him, I probably wouldn't have fought as hard as I did,” says Kathy. “He made me feel like life was worth living. I couldn’t have done it without him. He is the best.”

The Journey Was Just Beginning

Now, decades after a successful liver transplant, Dr. Ganger continues to provide Kathy’s transplant hepatology care. There is an ease in their relationship, a familiarity that has grown through decades of their patient-physician partnership. Dr. Ganger says he doesn’t want praise for doing his job, but patients like Kathy are why he’s still a full-time transplant hepatologist at 71 years old.

“A lot of people say, ‘I owe you my life,’ but of course they do not,” Dr. Ganger says. “They owe their lives to a team of people who work with them, and they owe themselves because they've done what they needed to since they received their transplants.”

Through the years, Kathy often had a companion at her appointments with Dr. Ganger — her daughter, Ashley Barretto, who was just eight years old when her mom received the transplanted liver.

Now Ashley, 38, is a nurse at the Northwestern Medicine Cancer Center Warrenville, something that makes her mom and Dr. Ganger equally proud. She says she models her conversations with patients after the interactions she’s seen between her mom and Dr. Ganger.

“There are so many physicians with great bedside manner, but he’s more than that,” says Ashley. “He takes the time to get to know you as a whole individual. There’s such a banter between Dr. Ganger and my mom, he makes her feel so comfortable. It brings me joy because I know she’s in such great hands.”

A Career as a Healer

“I love those meetings with longtime patients, and I love seeing Kathy well,” Dr. Ganger says. “She’s the story of how people can live with a liver transplant for a long time.”

Dr. Ganger says patients like Kathy have benefited from the transition from protocol-based care to precision medicine, which focuses on individualized care. He is excited about latest developments in transplant care that will help patients live better with fewer medications.

As he looks back on his more than 40-year career as a transplant hepatologist, Dr. Ganger remembers the personal details that patients have shared with him through the years. He continues to love the science of medicine and measures his success in the memories his patients can make as a result of their care at Northwestern Medicine.

“My best reward after 46 years of practice is to have the opportunity to help Kathy and so many other patients. These have been the relationships that have fueled this healer’s dream,” says Dr. Ganger.

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