Surprisingly Ron began his medical career in the Amazon Basin as a river doctor working for the Hospital Amazonica Albert Schweitzer in Pucullpa, Peru where his fluency in Spanish paid dividends. To this day, his commitment to global health continues with strong representation in Operation Smile. After he completed his surgical training he was integral in establishing the microsurgery program at the University of Toronto with Drs. Ralph Manktelow, Nancy McKee, Howard Clarke and Jim Mahoney. Quickly, Toronto became known as an epicenter of excellence and attracted dozens of trainees from around the globe including Professor Fu Chan Wei who, stimulated by his teachers, formed the world’s largest microsurgery unit at Chang Gung Hospital in Taipei.
Dr. Zuker is one of the original pioneers of microsurgery. He is a founding member of the American Society of Reconstructive Microsurgery and the Group for Advancement of Microsurgery (GAM – Canada). He has had important leadership positions in our specialty’s important societies including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Association of Plastic Surgeons, the American Association of Pediatric Plastic Surgeons, the American Burn Association, the American Cleft-Craniofacial Association, the American Society for Reconstructive Microsurgery, the American Society of Peripheral Nerve, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the Congress of the International Microsurgery Society, the Canadian Society of Plastic Surgeons amongst many others, culminating with the Presidency of the International Society of Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery Congress in Vancouver 2011.
His CV is rich with accolades, honors, peer-review papers and scientific presentations. He has been teaching residents and medical students in Plastic Surgery since 1978. He has taught fellows from all points of the globe. He has given lectures on 4 of the 5 major continents. He has well over 100 scientific peer review publications and book chapters. One of his most significant contributions has been his textbook entitled Principles and Practice of Pediatric Plastic Surgery (co-edited with Bruce Bauer and Mike Bentz) which has become the go-to book for Pediatric Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and is heading for a 3rd edition any day now! He has acted as a great mentor for the latest generation of reconstructive microsurgeons and is generous in sharing his surgical secrets.
It is easy to say that the backbone of Ron’s career has been his dedication to clinical excellence and innovation. The Zuker name has been integral in shaping the sub-specialty of pediatric plastic surgery through his contributions in microsurgery, cleft lip and palate and upper extremity surgery. However, Ron will be best known for his work as the “Smile Doctor”. His passion has been the restoration of facial function in patients with facial paralysis and Moebius syndrome. To this end, he has revolutionized the approach to the management of established facial paralysis using free functioning muscle transfer with the gracilis muscle being the workhorse. With Dr. Ralph Manktelow, he developed innovative and novel techniques for transfer of the gracilis muscle from the leg to restore the smile in patients with facial paralysis. Surgeons from around the world visit him to learn this remarkable procedure. He has been recognized for his passion by the Moebius Foundation and the Smile Foundation of South Africa. There is a photo in the collage of Ron’s office memorabilia showing him shaking hands with Nelson Mandela in recognition of his service to patients with facial paralysis. Ron holds honorary degrees as Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and Honorary Fellowship of the College of Plastic Surgeons of South Africa.
Everyone is well aware of Ron’s interest in smile surgery but here are ten little known facts about Dr. Ron Zuker’s clinical achievements:
- He has one of the largest experiences in the separation of conjoined twins in the world (seven).
- He has set the bar high creating unprecedented success rates following living donor-related liver transplant surgery by evolving microsurgery into the team.
- He described using the masseter nerve to power the gracilis muscle for facial reanimation and smile reconstruction.
- With Dr. Greg Borschel, he has developed techniques for re-innervating the insensate cornea.
- He performed the world’s first lower limb allotransplant.
- He has an anatomic point named after him.
- He has expertise in the management of congenital giant melanocytic nevi.
- He was in a television show with Monty Python original John Cleese describing the importance of the smile.
- He has done innovative research with functional MRI in Moebius patients.
- He is not afraid to cite Bob the Builder as one of his strongest influences and inspirations.
Ron’s career began with a focus on the delivery of health care to those in greatest need. He continues to exhibit this high level of altruism with devoting a huge amount of his energy to helping children with clefts in low and middle-income countries spending time in South America, Africa and India with the Operation Smile group.
His latest endeavor is the creation of the Pediatric Vascularized Composite Allotransplantation program at the Hospital for Sick Children pushing the clinical limits of reconstructive surgery.
It is a small world under the microscope but it is incredible how far it can take you in the real one. His name is synonymous with excellence and innovation. In the arena of innovative reconstructive microsurgery, Ron has few equals. Dr. Ron Zuker has made significant innovations in the unique areas of conjoined twins, composite vascularized allotransplantation, free functioning muscle transfer, solid organ transplantation and global outreach. In the field of Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery, Ron is an icon and for his contributions to the specialty was awarded the Canadian Society Lifetime Achievement Award in June 2014.