David B. Reath, MD
Knoxville, TN (865) 450-9253

Patients of Courage: How They Make Plastic Surgeons Look Good

Do you remember the scene in the movie, Men In Black, where Will Smith first puts on his black suit, dark glasses and weird triangular watch? He looks in the mirror and says, “I make this look good.” This has always been a catchy phrase which, unfortunately, I rarely get to use. But my thoughts are drawn not to something/someone that I make good, but to some very special people who make us, as plastic surgeons, look good.

One of the happy tasks that I get to do for the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) each year, is to review the candidates for what we call “Patients of Courage.”  These are patients who have overcome tremendous injuries, congenital deformities, or disease (like breast cancer) and have gone on to make a huge difference to other people. As plastic surgeons, we have helped them on their way with what we can do surgically, but what they have gone on to do really puts us as plastic surgeons in the background, where we should be.

These patients are nominated by the ASPS member who has cared for them. A narrative of their journey and what they have gone on to do is submitted along with other information. Last weekend, as I was sitting at my desk reviewing these materials for this year’s candidates, I was really struck by how little we have done for them in comparison to what they have done for us, and for the world in which they live. Here are some examples:

    • A survivor of breast cancer raised millions dollars for research while she was undergoing chemotherapy, lobbied in Washington D.C, and made a documentary about her experience.

    • A young woman who through a nearly fatal illness lost the legs and other parts of her body and has gone on to educate others of the need for vaccinations against her illness so that they would not share her fate.

    • A child who overcame severe facial deformities and has helped others with their treatments

    • A soldier who has struggled to overcome his injury and disfigurement to help his fellow veterans deal with their injuries and reclaim their lives.

Truly, this list goes on each year!

As I write this, and think about the courageous individuals, tears again come to my eyes, and roll down my cheeks  (OK, so I’m a mush ball). As a plastic surgeon, I am grateful for the opportunity to help someone, and when I do, I am doing my job. I feel incredibly humbled next to these patients. When we meet this fall in Denver at the annual ASPS meeting, the longest and loudest applause will be for this year’s Patients of Courage, as it should be because they make us look good.

All the best,

David B.

Plastic surgery patient of Courage Scott Rigsby

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