Plastic surgery mourns loss of one of its giants: Thomas Rees, MD, passes at 86
Plastic surgery pioneer and ASPS Life Member Thomas Rees, MD, Santa Fe, N.M., passed away Nov. 14. Dr. Rees was world-renowned for facial aesthetics, particularly rhinoplasty. He was also a prolific author who literally wrote the book – actually, six textbooks - on cosmetic plastic surgery and other procedures.
Along with his mentor Sir Archibald McIndoe, MD, and fellow plastic surgeon Sir Michael Wood, MD, Dr. Rees in 1957 co-founded the African Medical and Research Foundation, more commonly known as the Flying Doctors Service of Africa. The organization was dedicated to providing those living in the most remote areas of Eastern Africa with access to hospital care via air transport.
“During my years of active practice in New York City for 40-45 years, I was spending every winter in East Africa,” Dr. Rees told PSN in 2006. "I had this side avocation going on.”
“Dr. Rees’s contributions to aesthetic techniques – both in the United States and throughout the international aesthetic community of plastic surgeons – are extraordinary,” says ASPS President Robert X. Murphy Jr., MD. “His dedication to sharing his knowledge with residents and other plastic surgeons is overshadowed only by his tremendous humanitarian work with the Flying Doctors of Africa. He was truly a giant in our specialty and beyond.”
Dr. Rees stopped practicing plastic surgery in 1994, and penned a memoir chronicling his experiences in Africa titled Daktari: A Surgeon’s Adventures with the Flying Doctors of East Africa. He also continued to make annual trips to Africa with his wife of 63 years, Nan, who passed away in May 2012.
“Dr. Rees is a shining example of plastic surgery at its best,” says Kevin Chung, MD, president of The PSF. “His significant contributions extended well beyond the clinic, and he left a blueprint for international service that is inspiring and enduring.”
Dr. Rees, who came from a family of physicians, says he developed an interest in plastic surgery during a rotation in the specialty as part of his general surgery training.
“I liked it very much because it left a lot of room for innovation,” he said. “If you’ve done 50 gallbladders, you’ve done them all, [but] plastic surgery was different. It appealed to my artistic sensibilities. I liked the idea that you were constructing things instead of destroying things.”
As a dedicated teacher and humanitarian, Dr. Rees leaves a rich legacy that impacted generations of plastic surgeons and thousands of patients’ lives a world away.