Dr. Thomas D. Rees, a pioneering New York plastic surgeon who assisted in the founding of the Flying Doctors Service of East Africa, charity explicitly set up to issue and offer medical care in Africa via small planes, has died.
According to a report made by the New York Times, the doctor died of liver cancer on November 14 at his home residence in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was 86 years old.
Proudly acclaimed as “one of the fathers of aesthetic surgery in New York,” New York magazine established the credit to Dr. Rees as helping to advance cosmetic surgery from a hush-hush taboo activity to something that could be seen as symbol of status and position.
As much as he was the toast of the town in New York, Dr. Thomas D. Rees discovered his patients most in need on the continent of Africa. Apparently, Dr. Rees vocation was stimulated by his visit there in 1956. What was supposed to be a social visit to a colleague in Tarzania ending up being a life changing experience a lot more than Rees ever expected.
According to his memoir, “Daktari: A Surgeon’s Adventures With the Flying Doctors of East Africa”, Rees ended up treating a native warrior who had been gored by a charging rhinoceros. Without suitable instruments and general anesthetic as well as no antibiotics and no blood plasma, the young doctor was given no alternative but to operate straightaway. Despite not having a plane service for a medical evaluation until a day, the wounded man managed to survive.
Altered forever after by his experience, Dr. Rees collaborated with Dr. Michael Wood and Dr. Archibald McIndoe in 1957 to establish the Flying Doctors. The organization has become a huge success and now offers various medical services in 11 countries.
In addition to his work in Africa, Dr. Rees wrote over 100 medical articles and medical texts, including “Aesthetic Plastic Surgery,” a two-volume work now accepted as essential in the field. The work helped propel Dr. Rees into the top tiers of those in the plastic surgery profession.
Dr. Rees was also among the very first to directly teach plastic surgery to other plastic surgeons in the late 1960s and 1970s. Recognizing the importance to maintain a positive image of his profession, Dr. Rees quickly became a media figure for new generations of plastic surgeons in the transitional period when cosmetic surgery shifted from being frivolous to commonplace.