Staff Spotlight: Transplant surgeon Dr. Alex Cuenca wears many hats

Transplant: Dr. Alex Cuence with his wife and two sons in St. Thomas
Dr. Alex Cuenca and his family enjoy the scenery in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.

As one of three pediatric transplant surgeons in the liver, kidney, and intestine and multivisceral programs at Boston Children’s Hospital, Dr. Alex Cuenca brings a unique set of experience and skills to his job. We recently sat down and spoke with him about how all of his responsibilities and interests come together to support transplant patients throughout their surgical journey and beyond.

Q: What is your role at Boston Children’s?

I’m one of the general and transplant surgeons at Boston Children’s, addressing a variety of pediatric surgical issues from birth defects to chronic and acute health problems. I also have the good fortune of being one of the three transplant surgeons at Boston Children’s that perform abdominal organ transplants. In addition, I am a surgeon-scientist. In my lab, we are investigating new methods to improve the interaction between the immune system and organ transplants. Although these roles seem very different, they allow me to seamlessly combine my scientific and clinical pursuits to hopefully bring new discoveries and innovation to the patient’s bedside. 

Q: What is most rewarding — and most challenging — about your job? 

The most rewarding aspect of my job is being able to follow my patients from the clinic to the operating room to home and to the clinic again. To be able to take care of children and their families in their times of need has been one of the greatest joys in my life. I feel so fortunate at Boston Children’s to have the ability to perform high-level science and collaborate with clinicians and scientists from multiple specialties all with the same goal in mind, to improve the lives of children.  

I think the most challenging part of any clinician’s job is dealing with complications during treatment. During my training, one of my favorite mentors would always say, “If you put the patient first, you will have done your best.” These challenges are part of our job and are the obstacles I focus on removing or improving in the operating room or at the laboratory bench. There is always room for improvement, but understanding these obstacles helps me focus on their improvement and most importantly, find a way I can always put the patient first.     

Q: What is the most unexpected part of your job?​

The most unexpected part of my job is how much Boston Children’s feels like a big family. From the nurses to the operating room staff to the other physicians, we all work as a team. Despite everyone working at the top of their game in a challenging environment, all have been so welcoming and supportive. It’s also such an honor and a pleasure to work with some of the most talented and brilliant surgeons in both pediatric and transplant surgery.

Q: What made you decide to be a doctor? 

My parents were both in healthcare and so at a very young age I was drawn to a career in medicine. I enjoyed watching the interactions my father, a surgeon, had with his patients. I also loved volunteering at the clinic where my mother, a nurse and case manager, worked. When I finished my undergraduate degree, I was fortunate to obtain a job working as a laboratory technician in a tumor immunology lab. During this time, I developed a love for immunology and knew that in medical school I wanted to pursue science that would help improve patients’ lives. 

Transplant medicine and surgery provide the perfect synthesis of all of these things. Not only am I blessed to be able to help some of the most critically ill children in the country, but I also have the opportunity to take the clinical problems that my patients experience and work on them in my laboratory. For me, there is nothing better.  

On his time off from work, Dr. Cuenca enjoys traveling with his family.
Here, he and his sons Aidyn and Xander take a hike in Acadia National Park.

Q: What would you be if you were not a doctor?

If I wasn’t a physician, I would likely be a chef or a classical guitarist. I love the artistic expression in both of these professions. In the meantime, I can continue to work on my amateur status.

Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?

In my spare time, I love spending time with my wife and my two sons. As a family, we enjoy traveling, camping, and spending time outdoors. We aspire to hike every national park in the country. 

Learn more about the Pediatric Transplant Center.

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