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Thomas D. Rees

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Thomas D. Rees Obituary
Thomas D. Rees
Honored Plastic Surgeon
Thomas D. Rees, MD, FACS, 86, a distinguished and widely-honored plastic surgeon who also devoted much of his life to providing his skills and extensive medical care to the people of East Africa, passed away peacefully at his home in Santa Fe, NM, in the early evening hours of Thursday, November 14th, 2013. He follows his beloved wife, Nan, who passed away in May of 2012, his son David M. Rees, and is survived by his son Thomas D. Rees, Jr., daughter S. Elizabeth Rees, brother J. Richard Rees, MD, and numerous nieces and nephews.
Dr. Rees was born in Nephi and raised in Salt Lake City, UT, the son of University of Utah professor Don M. Rees, PhD, and Norma A. Rees, and was a second generation descendent of Mormon pioneers from the south of Wales. He graduated from the University of Utah with a BA in 1946, and an MD in 1948, and from which he received an honorary Doctor of Science degree in 2013. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1945, also served from 1957-1958, and was honorably discharged a Lt. Commander.
Dr. Rees trained in general and plastic surgery at the Genesee Hospital in Rochester, NY, and The New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center in New York City, followed by a prestigious fellowship in plastic surgery at the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead, in Sussex, England. He was privileged to work under Sir Archibald McIndoe, a pioneering New Zealand plastic surgeon who was famous for his work on the RAF pilots largely credited with saving England in the Battle of Britain in WWII.
During his fellowship, Dr. Rees was invited by Sir Archibald to visit his ranch in Kenya. While enjoying "sundowners" together with Sir Michael Wood (another fellow under Sir Archibald and a transplant to Kenya), the three surgeons founded the Flying Doctors of East Africa in 1957.
The three founders flew into the bush to set up clinics in rural areas of East Africa to enable advanced medical care ranging from vaccinations to operating on and treating local patients with congenital deformities and other conditions requiring extensive surgery and reconstruction. Radio and TV personality Arthur Godfrey donated their first plane, and through worldwide fundraising and government aid, the three surgeons created the organization now known as AMREF (African Medical & Research Foundation), which has grown into Africa's largest health development NGO.
Based in Nairobi, Kenya, AMREF has offices in 11 countries in North America and Europe. AMREF now employs more than 1,000 health professionals and experts, 97% African, with 90% living in the communities in which they work.
Over the past five decades, AMREF has received numerous awards for its contributions to African health development. Most recent include the Gates Award for Global Health, recognizing organizations that have made an outstanding contribution to improving global health, especially in resource-poor settings, and the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Award, the world's largest humanitarian prize given to an organization that is significantly alleviating human suffering.
Dr. Rees traveled to Africa annually and wrote a memoir about his experiences entitled Daktari: A Surgeon's Adventures with the Flying Doctors of East Africa."
Dr. Rees' contributions to the areas of plastic surgery techniques, education, and credibility cannot be overstated. He established his plastic and cosmetic surgery practice in New York City in 1957, at a time when there were only a handful of practicing plastic surgeons. With few exceptions, the field of plastic surgery was very insular in that most surgeons were fiercely protective of their techniques. Dr. Rees was only happy to open up his operating room to students, and he loved teaching and writing. He mentored thousands of fledgling plastic surgeons throughout his career; in his capacity as the Chairman of the Department of Plastic Surgery at Manhattan Eye, Ear & Throat Hospital from 1975-1992; directing the MEETH Aesthetic Surgery Fellowship; and teaching at the Institute of Reconstructive Plastic Surgery of the NYU Langone Medical Center. For over 25 years, Dr. Rees organized and co-chaired an annual Symposium on Aesthetic Plastic Surgery in New York City. These symposia feature a faculty composed of surgeons of different disciplines and nationalities, and are attended by surgeons from all over the world.
Dr. Rees was a Clinical Professor of Plastic Surgery at the New York University School of Medicine, Chairman Emeritus of the Department of Plastic Surgery at MEETH, as well as a past president of the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, and a former director and vice-chairman of the American Board of Plastic Surgery. He was a frequent lecturer at medical institutions, symposia and forums all over the world, and the author of more than 140 medical articles and six medical texts, including the two-volume Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, long the bible for surgeons in training.
Dr. Thomas Rees had many talents and interests that extended beyond medicine. He was a philanthropist, an avid fly fisherman in the west and saltwater and deep-sea fisherman in the east, a skier, at home on horseback, a jazz saxophonist who sat in with some of the best of his era. Upon retirement, he became an acclaimed sculptor in Santa Fe whose work reflected his experiences and feelings for the people, animals, and environment of Africa and his work was exhibited in 2009 at the Gerald Peters Gallery in Santa Fe.
Dr. Rees' transformative surgical skills touched celebrities, political figures, heads of state and their families and the people of East Africa. In all of this, he was accompanied, encouraged, and supported by his adored wife Nan.
His ashes will be joined with his wife's and scattered in their beloved East Africa. A memorial service will be announced and take place within the coming months. In his memory, contributions may be made to those organizations to which he committed so much of himself.
Published in Salt Lake Tribune on Nov. 19, 2013
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