His enthusiasm for learning led him to a research position with the renowned Wilfred Bigelow in 1949. They did pioneering hypothermia research assessing cardiac function. They speculated that the cooled heart could endure surgical intervention and continue to function when rewarmed and they were right. His clinical training led him to Montreal and Dallas before joining the staff of The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto in 1953. Here he changed the face of pediatric plastic surgery forever. One of his first initiatives was to establish the Cleft Lip and Palate Research and Treatment Centre which continues today to look after 3500 patients and see 175 new children each year.
Dr. Lindsay was a man of stature in its broadest sense. His kind and amiable nature was evident in the clinic when the children would run up to sit on his lap. He was a wonderful and empathetic clinician who led by example. Most importantly Dr. Lindsay is regarded in the highest fashion around the world by anyone who knew him as a true gentleman. Dr. Lindsay loved to teach. His trainees would eagerly wait to do palate surgery with him. He would do one side then they would do the other with his attentive coaching at their side. One of his greatest accomplishments was the University of Toronto-Lanzhou Burn Exchange which was sponsored by CIDA. This was also known as the Canada/China University linkage project CCULP. Students and teachers would go to Lanzhou or come to Toronto with Dr. Lindsay orchestrating the exchange and facilitating their education. For this he was awarded the Honorary Headship of the Provincial Hospital in Gansu Province. They built a new wing of the hospital thanks to his efforts.
Dr. Lindsay’s greatest impact perhaps was as an administrator. He became the Division Head at The Hospital for Sick Children in 1958 and held the position until 1986, some 29 years. He was Chairman of the University Division of Plastic Surgery from 1965 – 1986, the 20 years of the greatest growth in plastic and reconstructive surgery. To quote a recent article; “from an administrative viewpoint, Dr. Lindsay was a man of vision and a statesman par excellent. As Chairman of Plastic Surgery at the University of Toronto he foresaw the changes that technology was providing. He supported, encouraged and facilitated new directions for our specialty and literally allowed us to develop into the leading plastic surgical centre in North America”. Hence the sub-specialists could flourish. These included Wally Peters in burns, Ralph Manktelow in microsurgery, Ian Munro in craniofacial surgery, and Nancy McKee in research. This set the stage for the enormous successes the Division of Plastic Surgery at the University of Toronto has witnessed over the past 30 years. Without his vision and guidance, this would not have occurred. In recognition of all of these achievements, the division of Plastic Surgery at The Hospital for Sick Children has created the Lindsay-Thomson symposium in Pediatric Plastic Surgery.
Dr. Lindsay was a huge supporter and participant in laboratory research. A group of his research fellows formed the “Chicken Tendon Club” which represents an example of his recognition of the laboratory as part of clinical practice. His work in tendon healing dramatically affected our approach to the injured tendon from a clinical standpoint. His interest and enthusiasm for research continued well passed his retirement. He would say “research is the foundation for the future” and always wanted to know what lay ahead. Even far into retirement his scholarly interests persisted and he wanted to be kept “up to date” with what was happening in the plastic surgery research world.
Dr. Lindsay was a true statesman bringing pride to our Division, our Hospital, our University and indeed our country. He was President of the Canadian Society of Plastic Surgeons in 1964-65. His devoted trainees organized the W.K. Lindsay Club which continues to meet annually at this Canadian meeting. He was President of the American Association of Plastic Surgery in 1970-71, the most prestigious and the most academic of plastic surgery organizations. He was instrumental in the formation of the Holland-Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital), which is one of the leading pediatric rehabilitation centers in North America. For all his accomplishments – clinical, research, educational and administrative – he was awarded the Order of Ontario in 2002. He was a gifted surgeon, a man of vision, a true team player, leader and scholar. His name lives on in two annual awards given for the best faculty mentorship in research at the University of Toronto and the best research project in pediatric plastic surgery performed by a resident or fellow at the Hospital for Sick Children.
Written by Ronald M. Zuker, MD, March 11, 2008