As a college student, Raymond Heilman, M.D., nephrologist at Mayo Clinic’s campus in Arizona, started down the path to be a professional chemist, until a philosophy professor his junior year stopped him in his tracks.
“You don’t want to go to grad school in chemistry,” the professor remarked. “Think about something else.”
A resulting re-evaluation of his future led Dr. Heilman to medical school. During his time there, he considered different medical specialty areas for a couple years till a nephrologist he worked alongside in one of his rotations sparked his interest in internal medicine. Dr. Heilman went on to pursue training in internal medicine, which further honed his particular interests.
“At the end of my training, I was really in love with nephrology,” he says. “It’s a discipline where you can use chemistry.”
After residency, Dr. Heilman pursued a fellowship at Mayo Clinic’s campus in Rochester, where he met dynamic people who spurred on his pursuits. Most notably, Jorge Velosa, M.D., an emeritus nephrologist there, significantly influenced Dr. Heilman both clinically and scientifically.
Now, as a nephrologist at Mayo Clinic’s campus in Arizona, Dr. Heilman’s special interest in patient care includes all aspects of kidney transplant. His research focuses on post-transplant infection, complications and long-term outcomes for kidney transplant patients. In addition, he and colleagues are investigating techniques and innovations for increasing utilization of deceased donor kidneys, some of which are described for medical professionals here.
“There’s a tremendous shortage of organs: almost 100,000 are waiting, and 17,000 transplants are done per year,” he notes. “Certain groups of organs are not being used from deceased donors due to perceived risk. Our group is looking closely into these ‘risky’ organs and finding some of those thought not to be able to be utilized are actually useful for transplant.”
Dr. Heilman also is researching new tools to improve immunosuppression therapy for kidney transplant recipients.
An average day for Dr. Heilman primarily involves patient care: seeing patients before transplant to prepare them and counsel them on their risks, or taking care of kidney transplant patients right out of the hospital, adjusting for immunosuppression as well as any complications. He also serves on the hospital inpatient service 25 percent of his time.
Dr. Heilman indicates he is able to form long-term bonds with his patients, as he follows them for many years post-transplant, along with their community providers.
Three key aspects of kidney transplant care particularly motivate Dr. Heilman in his work, he explains. He is excited about the immunology of transplant and how to use medications to convince a person’s immune system not to reject a foreign organ. Beyond this scientific interest, Dr. Heilman indicates there is a strong interpersonal motivator for kidney transplant medicine.
“What thrills me about transplant is how excited patients are,” he says. “You can have an incredible impact on patients’ quality of life, and not only for the patient, but for the whole family. People are so grateful. It’s extremely rewarding, because they really are appreciative.”
Dr. Heilman also points to the impetus of being part of a close team working with kidney transplant patients.
“Teamwork is absolutely critical in transplant—maybe more than in anything else I’ve done,” he says. “It’s also why I like Mayo Clinic—the teamwork, the collegiality and the primary focus on the needs of the patient.”
In his interactions with work colleagues, Dr. Heilman notes that others often make fun of him for being a neat freak and leaving his desk spick-and-span.
“I’m just neurotic and don’t deal well with clutter,” he says, smiling through his words.
Significant administrative roles also comprise Dr. Heilman’s time at Mayo Clinic. He not only serves as chair of the Division of Nephrology, but he also provides leadership to the entire Mayo Clinic campus in Arizona as a member of the Executive Operations Team, to which he was appointed in 2014. In addition, he is the founding medical director, dating to 1999, for the kidney transplant program at Mayo Clinic’s Arizona campus.
In his time beyond the workday, his hobbies, or “way of getting steam off,” include mountain biking and skiing. Family life is also fundamental for Dr. Heilman, and he and his wife, Carie, have been married for 38 years.
Overall, Dr. Heilman feels very fortunate to be involved with kidney transplant patients and research to improve their lives in his work at Mayo Clinic’s Arizona campus.
“I feel lucky and blessed to be coming to work,” he notes. “It’s lucky to be coming to work and it not really feeling like work. Ninety percent of the time, it doesn’t really feel like work.”
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