Identifying emerging issues in organ transplantation and developing added-value programs that are relevant to organ transplant centers is the focus of Dr. Randall S. Sung, Professor of Surgery and Surgical Director of Kidney and Pancreas Transplantation at the University of Michigan, in his work as chair of the Organ Donation and Transplantation Alliance National Transplant Leadership Council.
Sung has served on the Transplant Council since it started as a task force in 2012 to better connect the transplant community with The Alliance. “The idea was to build bridges between the Organ Procurement Organization (OPO) community and the transplant community,” says Sung. “We look to create and develop content since a big part of what The Alliance does is create educational opportunities and networking opportunities to bring people together. The Council works to create content that’s of interest for transplant center professionals across the spectrum, from physicians to nurses to administrators and everyone in between.”
“One of the things that we keep in mind when we’re developing content is that we want to create added value for the transplant and OPO communities. We look to fill a knowledge need that isn’t being addressed by other groups or professional organizations. We work to connect in a synergistic fashion with the work of other groups.”
The National Leadership Transplant Council currently has three areas of focus. “We’re looking at how to adapt to changes in allocation and broader geographic sharing, transplant quality metrics, and enhancing and maximizing OPO and transplant center communication.”
Sung received his undergraduate degree in biochemistry from Harvard in 1985 and took a couple of years off to travel and work in a lab before going to medical school at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. He then went on to a general surgery residency at Columbia where he had planned to pursue pediatric surgery. Before his research year, he switched gears and became a research fellow in the lab of Mark Hardy, where he became trained in islet isolation, pancreas procurement, and in rodent models of islet transplantation.
“I had had one rotation in kidney transplant and liked it quite a bit,” says Sung. “I liked the medical aspects of it, the continuity, the fact that you develop relationships with patients in a way that wasn’t always present with other surgical procedures. Once I was working in the lab and doing my animal research project, I got involved in other clinical projects, including learning how to isolate human islets. We also went out to do organ procurements to recover the pancreas, and that piqued my interest in transplant further.”
After his fellowship year at Michigan, Sung’s first faculty appointment was at the Recanati-Miller Transplantation Institute at Mount Sinai in New York City. In 2002, he returned to the University of Michigan, where as a multi-organ transplant surgeon he has been instrumental in increasing the volume of kidney and pancreas transplants.
Sung was born in New York City and he and his younger brother grew up in the suburbs in New Jersey where his mother was a homemaker and his father commuted to the city where he worked as an actuary. His father came to the U.S. from Korea when he was 25 and moved back there in 1991, after Sung’s mother had passed away.
Sports were a big part of Sung’s childhood. “My mom was a big tennis player, so I played a lot of tennis but where I grew up, we didn’t have a whole lot of organized sports,” says Sung. “We played all sorts of sports in our neighborhood. We played basketball in our driveways or in a park nearby. We played football in the street or if somebody had a big lawn without any trees, we played there.” In high school, he played baseball, basketball and football.
He’s been married for 24 years to his wife, Nicole, and they have three sons, ages 20, 17 and 15. “We’ve tried to expose our kids to lots of different things and they’re very into athletics,” says Sung, who has coached all three sons in baseball. “Most spring and summer afternoons on weekends or even evenings that I wasn’t working, I was coaching one son or another. And, we’ve spent a lot of time traveling with their teams and watching their various sporting events. We also take a family trip each year.”
Before having children, Sung and his wife traveled extensively. During the Covid Pandemic, they binge-watched some streaming TV shows; their latest faves being Ozark and The Man in the High Castle.
Sung grew up a Mets major league baseball fan and says over time he and his family have become very big fans of the University of Michigan. “One of our best family memories is when we completely out of the blue went to watch Michigan play in the 2018 NCAA national championship basketball game in San Antonio, immediately after getting home from Spring Break,” says Sung. This past year, they went to watch the U of M football team play in the Orange Bowl in Miami.
In addition to his service to the Alliance, Dr. Sung has provided extensive service to the American Society of Transplant Surgeons (ASTS) and Gift of Life Michigan (GOLM), and also serves as the medical director of the University of Michigan University Hospital inpatient Transplant Unit.