UCSF Sustainability Stories

Sophia Labeko, May 2022

Spare Liver for Earth?

UCSF School of Medicine fourth-year student, Gurbani Kaur, has a clear sight of her goals–leverage biotechnological innovations to alleviate human suffering caused by disease in an equitable manner. She has worked towards that goal through Harvard - where she studied Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology and Global Health and Health Policy and continues to advance her education here at UCSF.

Passionate and determined, Kaur added something else to her agenda - fight climate change. “I think fundamentally we as human beings are but transient guests on this planet. At the very least, I believe in respecting this place we call home,” she explains.

Kaur was inspired to recommit her attention to the issues of climate change when on September 9, 2020, she woke up to the “dystopian reality where the ash and soot from what has become the annual forest fires of the region cloaked the skylines leaving no shroud of sunlight in sight for the day.” She is of course describing the red skies and haze which covered much of the Bay Area on that day and was caused by nearby forest fires.

“That fateful September 9 sky woke me up,” Kaur said. “It was like the Earth was signaling that its defenses against our waste and pollutants are failing, but unlike for some of the lucky organ transplant recipients, we have no extra parts to spare.” (Kaur pictured on September 9, 2020)

In her clinical experience, Kaur finds frequent instances of connection between environmental health and biomedical disease - from helping take care of pediatric patients with asthma exacerbations, to serving patients with COVID-19, to aiding patients afflicted with burns sustained in part by global warming.

The most striking revelation came during surgery rotation where she saw first-hand how our bodies signal that it is time for a more drastic medical intervention. “Yellowing of the skin that’s found to be associated with an operable condition can mean it’s time for a liver transplant,” she said.

In addition to studying and being an activist, Kaur, a proud Sikh American founded the Sikh Health Initiative. She is working with a team of three other young adults and the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund to launch the first national population health survey and study to assess the health, health literacy, healthcare access and utilization by the Sikh American community.