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Varaztad Kazanjian

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Dr. Varaztad Hovhannes Kazanjian is one of the great leaders responsible for the stature of plastic surgery as a highly respected surgical specialty. His contributions covered a wide range of subjects: massive reconstruction of the wounded of World War I, the meticulous intermaxillary fixation for maintenance of accurate dental occlusion, prognathism and micrognathia, ankylosis and problems of the temperomandibular joint, secondary restoration of patients with facial clefts, bone grafting to the mandible and the frontal area of the skull for bony losses resulting from trauma or infection, construction of prosthetic devices for facial and intra-oral defects, to name but a few.

Dr. Kazanjian was born March 18, 1879 in Turkish Armenia and came to the United States in 1895 when he was 16 years old. During most of the next seven years, he worked in a wire mill in Worcester, Massachusetts. At the same time, he attended night school, taking correspondence courses to supplement his early education at a missionary school in Armenia. He became an American citizen in 1900 and in the same year decided to study dentistry.

Two years later, he was admitted to Harvard Dental School where he first became interested in the treatment of fractured jaws. At that time such cases, as well as many post-injury and congenital deformities, were treated at the Dental School Clinic.

Upon graduation in 1905, Dr. Kazanjian began practicing dentistry, as well as his long teaching association with Harvard as an Assistant in Prosthetic Dentistry. He became head of that Department in 1912. At this time, hospital facilities for the treatment of jaw fractures were not available and many patients came to the Dental School where they were assigned to the Prosthetics Department for treatment. Dr. Kazanjian accepted the difficult challenge of these patients, treating over 400 patients during this early period of his career. He was among the first physicians the country to abandon the unwieldy interdental splint and to adopt the simpler method of intermaxillary wiring.

In 1915, Dr. Kazanjian was appointed the Dental Chief of the First Harvard Unit, which was organized to serve overseas with the British Forces. He established the first dental and maxillofacial clinic in Camiers, France as part of the Unit's services at General Hospital No. 22. As Dr. Kazanjian's unique skill with facial injuries became known and increasing number of casualties with maxillofacial injuries were sent to the hospital.

This clinic continued under Dr. Kazanjian, at the request of the British War Office, at enlarged facilities at Hospital No. 20, Camiers, until February 1919. He treated more than 3,000 cases of gunshot, shrapnel, and other severe wounds of the face and jaws during those years. The clinic was known throughout the British Army, and Dr. Kazanjian was referred to as “The Miracle Man of the Western Front.” Later that year, in recognition of his wartime services, Dr. Kazanjian was invested as “Companion of St. Michael and St. George” by King George V at Buckingham Palace.

Upon his return to the United States, Dr. Kazanjian rejoined the faculty of the Harvard Dental School as Professor of Military Oral Surgery. He also enrolled as a student at the Harvard Medical School, recognizing that he must complete his medical training to continue to be involved in the types of surgeries that he had performed in France. He graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1921.

Dr. Kazanjian was Professor of Clinical Oral Surgery at Harvard from 1922 to 1941 when he was named Harvard's first Professor of Plastic Surgery. He published more than 150 articles on plastic and reconstructive surgery with special reference to deformities of the face and jaws. Dr. Kazanjian was the author, with Dr. John Marquis Converse, of The Surgical Treatment of Facial Injuries, which has become a standard reference in the field. In the introduction of third edition of this book, Dr. Kazanjian is described as “A man of great determination, though soft spoken with kindly eyes one felt in his presence a vitality and a keenness of perception. Imaginative and resourceful, he taught to improvise new methods rather than follow the conventional. ‘Do it just right,' he would say, meaning in his laconic way (he preferred action to talk) that each patient's problem required an individual solution. Never did I hear him denigrate a colleague's work. His kindness, warmth, and modesty are legendary.”

Dr. Kazanjian received numerous awards from medical societies in the United States and abroad in recognition of his pioneering contributions to plastic and reconstructive surgery. Bowdoin College awarded him an Honorary Doctor of Science degree in 1952. The V.J. Kazanjian Visiting Professorship in Plastic Surgery was established at the Institute of Reconstructive Plastic Surgery, New York University Medical Center, in 1962.

In addition, Dr. Kazanjian was past President of the American Association of Plastic Surgeons, the American Society of Maxillofacial Surgery, and the New England Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. He was also a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology, and the American College of Dentists, and a Diplomat of the American Board of Plastic Surgery. He was made an Honorary Fellow of the British Association of Plastic Surgeons in London in 1966 and of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Glasgow in 1967. He was also an honorary member of the Massachusetts Dental Society, the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, and of the Academy of Oral Surgery.

Dr. Kazanjian maintained an active surgical practice, treating patients from all over the world, and served on the staffs of the major Boston and suburban hospitals. At the time of his death at age 95, he was Honorary Surgeon, Massachusetts General Hospital; Honorary Consulting Surgeon for Plastic Operations, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary; Consultant in Plastic Surgery, Beth Israel Hospital; Honorary Consulting Surgeon in Oral Surgery, Boston City Hospital; Consultant in Plastic Surgery, Mt. Auburn Hospital; and a member of the Honorary Staff of New England Deaconess Hospital, Sancta Maria Hospital, and Symmes Arlington Hospital. The achievements of this distinguished surgeon will indeed be remembered for years to come.

Material originally from the Massachusetts General Hospital website.

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There is a new biography, MIRACLE MAN OF THE WESTERN FRONT Dr. Varaztad Kazanjian Pioneer Plastic Surgeon, by Dr. Hagop Martin Deranian, D.D.S., coming in January of 2007. See the link below for more information.

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