Mark Gorney, M.D.
1924 - 2014
Mark Gorney, MD, a uniquely remarkable man, was born December 24, 1924 in Mexico City. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Warsaw, Poland following WW I. Mark was educated in Mexico City until age 16. He was multilingual speaking Spanish, French, German and English with an understanding of Russian and Polish from his parents. He was fascinated with the matadors and bull fighting and aspired to be a matador. At age 12, however, he was gored, suffering a serious injury ending any aspirations in that direction.
He enrolled at Harvard University at age 16, beginning his pre-medical education in 1940. This was interrupted when he enrolled in the U.S. Army in 1943. As a result of his military service, he was granted US citizenship on May 17, 1944. He returned to complete his medical education at the University of Chicago, paid for by Uncle Sam anticipating the need for more physicians to care for the war casualties. He was honorably discharged from the Army on March 24, 1946. He served a one-year internship from 1947-48 in Paris. Following medical school, Mark interned at Blodgett Hospital at the University of Michigan. He interrupted this period by enlisting in the U.S. Navy to repay Uncle Sam for the cost of his education. He served from September 7, 1949 to July 4, 1965, during and after the Korean War, rising to the rank of Lt. Commander. His plastic surgery training was completed at the University of Michigan and he was certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery in 1957. He served as a Director of ABPS from 1979-1983.
Mark met and married his first wife Elizabeth while in the Navy prior to returning to Michigan to complete his residency. His daughter, Cynthia was born in Michigan. Following a fellowship at Tulane, they returned to San Francisco to establish his practice. Eventually, two sons, Douglas and Mark Andrew were born.
In San Francisco, Mark served as Chief of the Plastic Surgery Residency Program at St. Francis Memorial Hospital. Other academic appointments included Clinical Professor of Plastic Surgery at Stanford University, and Associate Clinical Professor of Plastic Surgery at the University of California Division of Plastic Surgery. It was during this time that Mark, working with Don Laub, established his international plastic surgery charity missions. This led to the development of Interplast. Mark’s early missions were to Latin American countries where his first language, Spanish, was of such significant help. Eventually, he charitable works extended to the Philippines, Burma, and Viet Nam. Mark cared for Kim Phut, the girl whose image of her walking after suffering napalm burns became a Pulitzer Prize image. She eventually moved to San Francisco where Mark with colleagues, cared for her over many years, reconstructing the burn damage from the napalm burns.
In the 1970, Mark was a member of the California Physician’s Crisis Committee that led the efforts to repair the medical malpractice insurance crisis. As a result of those efforts, MICRA was passed. This led to the founding of The Doctors Company with Mark a founding member on the Board of Governors. He was to become the Medical Director in 1997, leaving his practice of plastic surgery. His life’s work then switched to one of educating and warning physician of the risks involved in the practice of medicine, but specifically in plastic surgery.
Mark was also an elected leader in plastic surgery. He was President of the California Society of Plastic Surgery in 1978-79 and President of the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons in 1982-1983. The adoption of the ASPS logo and the beginning of patient brochures began during his presidency. In the 70’s, the FTC removed the restrictions on professional advertising, a position Mark fought, believing it was letting loose the dogs of advertising. He believed this would lead to behaviors that would not serve our specialty well. Internationally, he was a leader in IPRAS, hosting an international meeting in San Francisco in the 1980’s. As part of The Doctors Company, Mark helped to organize the defense for physicians sued during the implant crisis in the 90’s. While Dow Corning eventually withdrew from the market, in hindsight without any medical illnesses from silicone being identified, physicians of that era owe a debt of gratitude to Mark and The Doctors Company for their support.
Dr. Gorney wrote many editorials appearing in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, the Annals of Plastic Surgery, and the Aesthetic Surgery Journal. Many were focused at the medical malpractice issue and others at physician behavior in the highly competitive aesthetic surgery environment. Along with colleagues Norm Cole, Jay Anastasi, and Bill Bailey among others, he helped develop and present an educational program for plastic surgeons focusing on the malpractice crisis. These seminars, held several times a year around the country, used lectures and mock court trials to demonstrate the good and bad of litigation preparation. If you ever attended one, the anxiety these seminars produced personally was palpable but the education was invaluable. Several articles were made available to physicians entitled “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Malpractice but were Afraid to Ask” along with “Knew or Reasonably Should Have Known”. From an editorial entitled “And for My Next Trick…!”, he wrote “Those of us responsible for defending you sometimes cannot suppress a mixture of awe and disbelief at their (attorneys) ability to convince 12 honest, hard working, well-meaning citizens that a simple error of communication, resulting in no visible or measureable harm, can be worth a million dollars.” In another editorial entitled “Recognition and Management of the Patient Unsuitable for Aesthetic Surgery”, he wrote “There is no surgical fee, regardless of value, that compensates for the anguish you will feel when, despite a good result, things go awry and the patient suddenly turns unhappy and litigious. As the popularity of aesthetic surgery grows, the trend to solve emotional problems with a scalpel follows, but so does the expansion of the trailing liability claims that go with it.” A re-reading of Mark’s editorials would be well advised to all surgeons, but especially those who perform aesthetic surgery. Even with Mark gone, his message is there for all who care to learn from a timely leader unafraid to say it like it is, and urge us all to perform ethically and to the best of our abilities.
In 1983, Mark married Gerri Cox. Between them, they had a blended family of 6 children, 3 from each marriage. Gerri was the love of his life. They were perfect hosts to plastic surgeons who came to visit TDC, especially the ASPS Risk Management committee. They traveled internationally and represented American plastic surgery at IPRAS on many occasions. Mark and Gerri were a part of the Napa Valley community and entertained in their beautiful home. Mark had a train room known to many, which was a passion for him. He was a sculptor and painter as well. Many have described Mark as a crusader in many ways, seeking to right wrongs, correct injustices and make us better advocates for our patients and our specialty. Many identified Mark as our own “Don Quixote” and others as his “Sancho Panza”. In his presentations and writings, he never hesitated to call it as he saw it or admonish plastic surgeons to do the right thing for the right reasons and less for themselves. He was always urging his colleagues to put patients first.
After a series of major health issues, Mark died November 17, 2014, leaving a legacy of professionalism, leadership, and personal valor. He will without doubt be remembered for his writings, personal style, and his role at TDC and for his international charity work as a uniquely remarkable man.
James H Wells, MD, FACS