Dwight C. "Pete" Hanna, M.D.
1922 - 2007
On Sept. 10, 2007, Dwight C. “Pete” Hanna left this life he loved so much and lived so well. To those of us in the small world of plastic surgery, he was known as a past president of the Association (1982), past chairman of the American Board of Plastic Surgery, program director of the Western Pennsylvania Hospital Residency, clinical professor at the University of Pittsburgh, and author of numerous articles, chapters, and books, especially in the areas of head and neck surgery and salivary gland surgery, inter alia.
He was a superb surgeon and his numerous papers reflect his own work. He was among the earliest proponents of aggressive approaches to skull base surgery. His dissections of the cervical plexus in the performance of radical cervical lymphadenectomy, and of the facial nerve in parotidectomy using knife and hemostat were truly elegant to behold.
A compact man of distinguished appearance, with a distinctive baritone voice, his staid and courtly demeanor belied his extraordinary zest for life and a willingness to test limits. He told me once that when he was in high school, he set a goal for himself to swim across Lake Erie, and began training for it. His daughter, Marilyn, couldn’t confirm that for me, but she said that he was a great swimmer, although he got into trouble and had to be rescued from going over a high falls in New York State.
He commissioned and helped an architect design his dream house, which was perfectly round and which he loved to show off to guests accompanied by one of his perfectly mixed martinis.
Most weekends in Pittsburgh he sang in the Fox Chapel Presbyterian Choir, the highlight of which was the Christmas performance of “The Messiah.” He was an avid golfer at Oakmont Country Club, where he frequently took guests to play the historic links, and where he took particular pleasure in serving as a marshal for the U.S. Open.
He was devoted to his medical missionary work abroad, most of which was concentrated on the Presbyterian Hospital in Meraj, India, where he made numerous trips, including one in 1987, when Mark Schusterman accompanied him as a resident. “We did a free flap together with a monocular scope,” Mark said, “ and Pete helped me without loupes, in a case that took well over twelve hours. I was amazed at this sixty-five year old man standing there and helping a chief resident, no complaints, no griping, just quietly helping.”
After several days of nonstop work in the heat of south India, Mark told Pete, “You know, I sure could use a beer!” to which Pete shot back, “I could, too!” They went out and found a bar, had a couple of beers, and bought a few to take back with them. “But this was a religious hospital,” Mark said, “and we sure got into some trouble over that!”
Pete ran the West Penn Plastic Surgery Residency until 1982, when he was approached by Bill Futrell, who had taken over as chairman at The University of Pittsburgh, to consolidate the programs and include Allegheny General Hospital in what would become a unified citywide program. “There was no ego involved, Pete just saw what was the right thing to do and he did it, and he gave his complete support to the new program after that, and was integral to its success.”
Pete retired from practice in 1987, and was as active as ever during his remaining twenty years, managing to publish papers and a book, to travel widely, to sing, golf and bowl until near the end. All of us who were honored to have known and worked with him were enriched by our association with this remarkable man.