Frederick Finseth, M.D.
1940 - 2007
It was clear from the time I began recruiting Fred Finseth to our program at Yale in 1974 that he was going to march to a different tune played by a different drummer. He was a graduate of Harvard Medical School and the programs in General and Plastic Surgery at the Massachusetts General Hospital and was Board Certified in both specialties which shaped his life-long devotion to reconstructive surgery. Fred completed a hand fellowship in Great Britain but delayed his arrival at Yale in order to complete a visit to India and Professor Noshir Antia (whom he had met when he visited the MGH). He would subsequently make more than thirty visits to Mumbai and other parts of India during his fascinating career.
After three years at Yale and an additional few years at Stanford, Fred ended his “formal” academic career in 1980. From then on he pursued his love of surgery and teaching, particularly surgery of the hand, from a private practice in Mountain View, California. Fred truly remained an academic surgeon and teacher, his practice and his pupils were now to be found world-wide. From the Schweitzer Hospital in Haiti, during multiple visits to Ethiopia, Brazil, Peru and finally for a special group of 6 residents he taught in Ecuador, his classroom was other than the Ivory Tower. But it was clearly India that held a special place in his heart. There were visits to the JJ Hospital for the poor in Mumbai, the government hospital in Chennai and the leprosy hospital in Orissa State where he and a colleague Santosh Rath worked on tendon transfers (resulting in a publication dedicated by the author to Fred). He held honorary degrees from the University of Peru and the University of Nepal at Kathmandu where he taught as well. He was a member of the British Association of Plastic Surgeons, and most dearly perhaps, the Association of Rural Surgeons of India. He was proud of his election to Fellowship in the American Association of Plastic Surgeons in 1981 but otherwise eschewed the trappings, formalities and perceived pretensions of Academics.
He met his wife, Adelaide in Colombia, South America in 1984 where she, a pediatrician, was serving with Interplast. Her mother, also a pediatrician, was one of the earliest participants in the nascent Interplast organization under the leadership of Don Laub. The Drs. Finseth shared the “missionary vocation” of bringing technology and education to those in most need and they made eleven trips to India together. Fred leaves two sons, Eric (an attorney in Palo Alto) and Ian (Professor of American Literature at the U. of Northern Texas). Fiercely private, Fred faced his final illness with the strong will that characterized his devotion to surgery and teaching. And, true to the end, he requested that there would be no memorial service after his death at age 67 yrs in December, 2007.
Fred would probably have chosen that I not share these thoughts with the Association. However, as his first “chief” in Academics and as a long time friend, I believe that the Association is served by knowing about this immensely gifted and dedicated surgeon. He represented his specialty and the Association with integrity and good-will on a world-wide basis. I am immensely grateful to Adelaide for helping me fill in some of these details. Fred…no matter what you may have thought, you will be missed by many!
Thomas J. Krizek, MD