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John C. Gaisford, M.D.
1915 – 2014

John “Jack” Gaisford passed away on April 13, 2014. Dr. Gaisford was a pioneer in plastic and reconstructive surgery. He was born in Chicora, Pennsylvania on June 11, 1915. He never forgot his small town roots. He attended the Kiski Prep School on both a golf and basketball scholarship and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1938 and Georgetown Medical School in 1942. Dr. Gaisford was a captain in a mobile army surgical hospital in the Pacific Theatre where he was chief of surgery and anesthesia. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his service.

He trained at the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City and at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center where he was the first plastic and reconstructive surgery resident in Pittsburgh.

Dr. Gaisford was a member of the American Association of Plastic Surgery and was on the Board of Trustees from 1966-1978. He was a founding member of the American Burn Association and established the West Penn Burn Center in 1969. He recognized that comprehensive burn care required a team approach and to do that you needed a facility dedicated to burn patients.

He was also on the Board of the American College of Surgeons from 1965-1974 and a member of the Advisory Council for plastic and maxillofacial surgery. He was a founding member of the Society of Head and Neck Surgeons and the American Society for Surgery of the Hand as well as the international society for burn Injuries and plastic surgeons.

He published numerous articles on care of malignancies of the head and neck and related reconstructive surgery, as well as palliative care for the burned patient. In addition, he wrote several books on surgery, his “Mash” unit in World War II, and one book on his great friend and neighbor, Matthew Bunker Ridgway.

Dr. Gaisford was a pioneer in head and neck cancer surgery. Prior to 1940, the treatment of head and neck cancers was largely with radiotherapy and radium implants. The results were usually failure and death. After 1940, surgery became the primary treatment option. The only place for surgical training for these new procedures, including radical neck surgery, was at Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York City under Dr. Hayes Martin. Dr. Gaisford wanted to help these unfortunate patients in Pittsburgh. He went to Memorial to study and master these surgeries and became the first head and neck cancer surgeon in Pittsburgh. Dr. Gaisford then trained other surgeons and surgical residents over several decades. The plastic surgeons were the exclusive head and neck surgeons until 1960 when an otolaryngologist, Dr. Sebastian Arena who trained at Memorial, also came to Pittsburgh. It was not until Dr. Eugene Myers was brought to Pittsburgh as the head of otolaryngology at Eye and Ear Hospital in 1972 that the otolaryngology residents learned these surgical procedures.

Outside of plastic surgery, Dr. Gaisford was a fine amature golfer. He won many local and national events, had 13 holes-in-one and shot his age, or less, innumerable times. Marrying golf to medicine, he built a golf net in the boiler room of his primary hospital and had one in his backyard, at all times, for practice. At Augusta, he was 72 years old and shot his age.

He was an accomplished musician playing the piano, marimba, xylophone and drums. He had his own band at the University of Pennsylvania and played on the Cunard Lines during the summer. At one time, he had a hard time deciding between a medical career or one in music.

Dr. Gaisford was married to the late Frances Jacobs Gaisford for over sixty-five years. They were introduced on a blind date by a fellow surgical resident and had a brief engagement before marrying. He is survived by three daughters, Linda, Cindy and Carolyn and by his six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

He was one of the major influences in the many aspects of plastic and reconstructive surgery in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Those he trained, and the patients he helped, felt fortunate to be in his presence.

Joseph Imbriglia, M.D.

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