Meet the Expert: Dr. Samar Ibrahim

Jun 6 11:00am | Kristin Eggebraaten | @keggebraaten

Dr. Ibrahim is a gastroenterologist and transplant hepatologist specializing in liver disease in children from our Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Dr. Ibrahim came to Mayo Clinic in 2008 for her residency and gastroenterology fellowship, she did her transplant hepatology fellowship at Cincinnati Children’s and returned here for a staff position in 2012, and currently serves as the Medical Director of Pediatric Liver Transplant. We sat down with Dr. Ibrahim and asked her some questions so you could get to know more about this amazing dedicated doctor.

Why did you choose this area of expertise? How did you get into pediatric medicine?

In medical school, I had an interest in the liver and functions of the liver. I wanted to be a pediatrician early in my training, and combining my interest in the liver with caring for children seemed to be the right start for me. I chose gastroenterology (GI) as my specialty because health and nutrition is the center of care for children. Properly functioning GI system is essential for child health and wellness. I am fascinated by the complex and essential functions of the liver and interested in watching the lifesaving transformation that liver transplant gives to kids. Nothing is more important than kids having a normal childhood free from illness and the transformational power of liver transplant can give them that normal childhood.

Describe your area of expertise/primary interest.

My area of expertise are acute liver failure, liver transplant, and  cholestatic liver disease in children. I am also interested in genetic causes of liver disease and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Fatty liver disease is the most common cause of liver disease in adults and children without proven therapy and identifying effective therapy for fatty liver is my research focus in the laboratory. This ties back to my interest in the health and nutrition for children as well.

I am also interested in long-term graft health and longevity of transplanted livers. The wait list is sometimes long for liver transplants, and the longer we can get those organs to function after transplant, the better for the patients and for those still waiting. I am interested in wait list management and making the process as equitable as possible for patients including children. I belong to pediatric liver societies and continue to advocate for changes to protocols and policies to improve the outcome of pediatric liver transplant recipients.

If you weren’t doing this job, what would you be doing?

If I wasn’t a liver transplant pediatric hepatologist, I think I would be a life coach for children. Again, I have a keen interest in the health and wellness of children and would love to educate families about healthy lifestyle. Major health issues are very difficult for children and their families, and I would like to help convince them not to give up and to use the therapy and other tools available to them to cope.

What are some things you wish patients would ask you?

Generally liver transplant patients and their parents are well-educated about transplant. They typically ask the right questions. I like the process to be shared decision making – I make recommendations about the care of their children, but they participate as partners in the process. I like to be asked about the options because it helps parents to know that they’ve made the right decisions. I want patients to ask how they can be advocates for transplant and organ donation once they go home after their surgery. We can only transplant the patients on the list with donors, both living and deceased, and I would love to have my patients ask how they can advocate for others to get involved and sign up for donation.

Describe one of your most rewarding clinical experiences.

One of my most rewarding times as a doctor is when patients recover from acute liver failure and don’t require a transplant. I want patients to get better without transplant, but when they need one, I want the outcomes to be as successful as possible. Those are my most rewarding times.

What research have you been involved in as a Mayo physician?

My research focuses heavily on the basic science and understanding liver inflammation. Nonalcoholic hepatitis is main area of focus, and my ultimate goal is to find new therapies for fatty liver disease. I also want to help make the organ allocation metrics better by keeping the processes equitable, especially for children.

What do you think are some of the most influential trends or findings in liver transplantation and research?

Some of the current research includes research to reduce organ waste. When someone makes the decision to donate on the deceased donor list, we want to do everything we can to be able to use that organ. Right now many of the organs are suboptimal, but there are ways to make these organs usable. Future research regarding prevention of immunosuppressive side effects and eventually eliminating these drugs completely is something we all hope will come for patients soon.

In your opinion, what sets Mayo Clinic care apart from other transplant centers? What will patients find at Mayo Clinic that they may not be able to get elsewhere?

Mayo Clinic is built on a strong history and culture of teamwork and the mission that the needs of the patients come first. The Children’s Hospital at Mayo has access to some of the world’s best specialists. As a physician, I can reach out to these specialists and they are always willing to take the time to give their opinions on my patients. Mayo’s practices are all integrated which leads to more efficiency and organization when it comes to caring for patients.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

The most challenging aspect of transplant is not being able to get an organ for your patient. The wait time for livers can be months to years, and patients have a hard time waiting for that organ to come – especially parents of sick children.

What are your interests or passions outside of work?

I love to be active and learn new challenging things. Right now I am learning to swim as an adult. Last year I ran a marathon. When I was 40, I learned how to ride a bike. I love to try new things and am always searching for that next active challenge.

Is there anything else you would like people to know?

I am an immigrant and one of the reasons I came to Mayo Clinic and have stayed here is at Mayo everyone is valued. Everyone is treated equitably, both staff and patients. We provide the best care for all patients, regardless of their backgrounds, religions or ethnicities. Staff care for each other as well, treating each other with the utmost respect.

Have you met Dr. Ibrahim? What questions do you have about pediatric liver transplant?

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