Robert Montgomery, MD, PhD
Organ Transplant Pioneer
Robert Montgomery, MD, DPhil, is a pioneering transplant surgeon who himself is the recipient of a heart transplant. He has drawn on knowledge gained through his own health challenges to invent innovative surgical procedures and make organ transplantation accessible to a greater universe of patients. Dr. Montgomery is now the H. Leon Pachter, MD Professor of Surgery; the Chair of the Department of Surgery at NYU Langone Health; and Director of the NYU Langone Transplant Institute. His grit, his empathy, and his personal health odyssey are as extraordinary as his medical accomplishments.
Montgomery is the pioneer of the laparoscopic procedure for live kidney donation that has become the standard throughout the world. He and colleagues at Johns Hopkins also pioneered the practice of “domino paired donations,” in which a pool of people who need transplants have friends or relatives who are willing to donate but aren’t compatible. A chain of surgeries is arranged in which each would-be donor is matched with a compatible recipient. “Altruistic” donors, who are willing to give a kidney to anyone, are there to fill in the gaps so that incompatible kidney transplant patients can receive the kidneys they need. In 2010, Montgomery set the Guinness World Record for the most kidney transplants performed in a single day.
Montgomery inherited a form of cardiomyopathy whose effects had caused both his father and older brother to die early of cardiac arrest. He had cardiac defibrillators starting at the age of 29 that saved his life many times over the next three decades. He collapsed while hiking in the snow in the Andes, attending a medical conference in Italy, and watching “School of Rock” on Broadway. In 2018 Montgomery went on a waiting list for a new heart and his colleagues at NYU Langone became his own surgical transplant team. He accepted the heart of a heroin user who had died of an overdose and had hepatitis C, which Montgomery contracted and took oral medication to cure. He was the 17th patient at NYU to receive a hepatitis C-positive heart, a practice he had been advocating as a physician to ease the organ donor shortage and salvage some good from the opioid crisis.
In September 2021, Montgomery made medical history and international news by performing a pig-to-human kidney transplant using a pig that had been genetically modified so that the kidney would not be rejected. The pig kidney came from Revivicor, a subsidiary of United Therapeutics, a biotech company founded by Martine Rothblatt, a 2019 Genius Award winner. Her goal is to save hundreds of thousands of lives annually with "xenotransplants"—or animal-to-human transplants.
Dr. Montgomery shares that passion. “To me, it’s a thrill to do research that can have an impact around the world,” he says.