Chair’s Comments: January 2016

Dr. Christopher R. Forrest

“So, this is Christmas
And what you done?
Another year over
And a new one just begun…”

— From Happy Christmas (war is over) – John Lennon and Yoko Ono, 1971

I am delighted to wish you all a very happy 2016 and I hope that your holiday season was an enjoyable and healthy one.

I love this time of year as all forms of media feel obliged to generate their “best of” lists. The best books of 2015, the best movies of 2015, the best songs of 2015, the best restaurants of 2015… you get the idea. I enjoy gleaning through these lists in the hopes of discovering a hidden gem or something I overlooked during the year.

This past holiday season, I happened to discover a series of websites showing the best photographs of 2015. As Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons, we are all very much into visuals (“it doesn’t heal without a photograph, right?”) and like most of you, I enjoy and appreciate making photographic images. One of my favorite annual endeavors is to check out the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Contest that is on display at the Natural History Museum in London. This is a remarkable collection of images taken by pros and amateurs (our own Dr. Howard Clarke has submitted images to this contest).

Here are a few of the “Best Photo” sites I checked out that highlighted the events of the past year.

The lists of images I looked over the past week were remarkable in their scope and breadth… these included the young Syrian refugee boy lying in the sand on the beach, photos of Paris after the Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan attacks, FIFA president Sepp Blatter ignoring a flutter of banknotes, Caitlin Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair and images of the health care workers wearing full haz-mat gear during the Ebola outbreak to name a few.

There is no one photograph that could be considered definitive for the past year and I have to be careful in not diminishing the importance of those images that placed focus on the human condition. But for me, the picture that made a profound impact was this one below. It was published as a series of images on the effects of over-population and over-consumption on the planet in The Guardian.

Source: The Guardian

It is of a partially decomposed albatross lying dead in the sand on a remote beach at Midway Atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean – the bird had been dead for some time as most of the flesh had melted away leaving exposed bones and feathers to bleach in the sun. What makes this remarkable was that it had died from ingesting too many discarded plastic objects clearly visible in its belly.

Several thoughts came to my mind when I saw this image: the transient nature of life, the butterfly effect of someone discarding something thousands of miles away, the loss of beauty, the permanence of plastic, the fact the cycle of life that affects all organic material (“from dust to dust”) excludes so much of our manufactured landscape and obviously the environmental impact of what the human species is doing to the planet. (The irony of the plastic implants outlasting the remains of the bird was not lost on me…)

The images in these lists are powerful and compelling – they describe a truth that exists at that moment in time and the really good ones (like the one above) tell a story. And for the most part, the stories told are sad and tragic…

For reasons unclear to me, the response that was elicited by this image above brought me to the refrain John and Yoko sang in their famous seasonal song many years ago “And what have you done? Another year over, and a new one just begun”. It made me feel that we as a species should be doing more for the planet.

2015 has been a busy year in our division. New staff appointments, fellows coming and going, a crop of brand new residents, CME events, weekly seminars, GTA lecture series and Professor’s Rounds all on a backdrop of health care cut-backs and resource shrinkage. I would say that it has been a year of challenge but also a year of great opportunity.

But for me 2015 was a year where I wished I could have done more with my skills. Not write more papers, not attend more meetings, not operate on more patients – that’s all part of my job. It made me wonder exactly what I had done over the past year and what good I had brought to the world… Did I make a difference? Ah, a variation on a classic existentialist theme…

And so, my new year’s challenge to you all… I would like to you send me images that highlight something that you were involved in that went a little “above and beyond”… small or big. An example for you (this one is a little more that a little, but you get my meaning ) – one of my favorite divisional images from the past year is a photo of Dr. Oleh Antonysyhyn standing next to a slightly dazed but very grateful patient that he operated on during a mission to the Ukraine. Dr. Antonyshn’s focus on helping victims of war and violence in the Ukraine is a remarkable achievement of someone stepping outside their comfort zone and accomplishing amazing things for people who would never have had the opportunity to receive help from any other means. What impressed me is the fact that without Oleh’s help, this young man would never have had access to sophisticated reconstructive surgery. So send me your images with a short blurb and I will post them on our website.

As a group of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons, our job is to restore form and function and improve the quality of a life. We are a remarkably fortunate and privileged group to have this opportunity (see my last Chair’s Comments on developing opportunities) but I think that we should consider doing just a little more…

I continue to be immensely proud of the work that we do as a specialty and the opportunities to change the lives of those less fortunate or in need…

But sometimes I wonder if it is enough… show me, please.

Happy 2016 everyone!

“A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.”

— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

I usually end the Chair’s Comments for the new year by listing the top ten of the previous year but in the spirit of this column, here are my top ten division images of the past year (in no particular order).

1. Jumping for joy – Annual Research Day February 2015 at the Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning, The Hospital for Sick Children.

2. Dr. Kyle Wanzel teaching a group of interested students basic techniques in Plastic Surgery.

3. Dr. Mitch Brown addressing a large group of medical students attending the first Medical Student Career Night on November 25th, 2015 at the Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning designed to showcase the breadth and depth of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

4. Dr. Karen Wong performing a cleft palate repair using the Da Vinci robot during a site visit to Intuitive, Sunnyvale, CA.

5. CIBC Run for the Cure 2015 UoT Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery team.

6. Back to Back Farewell Tours: Dr. Ron Zuker and friends at the Shania Twain concert in June 2015.

7. Career Night 2015: From left to right: Drs. Frank Lista, Wayne Carmen, John Semple, Mary Helen Mahoney, Michael Kreidstein, Ron Zuker and Tim Sproule who generously shared their wisdom and thoughts on how to be successful in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

8. More than 100 years of microsurgery experience with all generations of microsurgeons! Dr. Tommy Chung (Chang Gung Hospital, Taipei), Dr. Greg Borschel, Dr. Kristen Davidge, Mr. Chris Coombs (Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia), Dr. Howard Clarke, Dr. Ashok Gupta (Mumbai India) and Dr. Ron Zuker.

9. Former SickKids craniofacial fellow Dr. Phuong Nguyen (aka JP Danger) brought his LA-based band “Help the Doctor” to the great white north for a benefit show that rocked the house down on May 22nd, 2015 at the Silver Dollar. After a rousing set of original tunes, the band closed out with a Canuck classic “Summer of 69” with special guests for an one-time only appearance. All proceeds went to the SickKids Herbie Fund.

10. Graduating Class of 2015: Drs. Homan Cheng, Paul Carter and Blake Murphy with Dr. Steve McCabe (recipient of this past year’s Arnis Frieberg Teaching Award).

That’s it! And finally, thank-you to Kathy Pavlovic for all her hard work in managing the division!


Christopher R. Forrest, MD, MSc, FRCSC, FACS
Chair, Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery
Chief, Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery
Medical Director, HSC Centre for Craniofacial Care and Research
Department of Surgery, Faculty of Medicine
University of Toronto