Francis Xavier Paletta, MD, FACS
Dr. Francis Xavier Paletta (“Sam”) was born November 4, 1915 in New Kensington, Pennsylvania along the Allegheny River outside of Pittsburgh. He was the fourth of eight children born to parents who had immigrated from Calabria, Italy in 1910. He attended New Kensington High School and completed his college studies at Duquesne University. He earned his medical degree from Marquette Medical College in 1938, graduating second in his class. After a one year internship at St. Francis Hospital in Pittsburgh (where his Italian mother would regularly take her lunch, patiently sitting in the front lobby, and upon hearing her son paged overhead, proudly announce to anyone listening “that’s my boy…Sammy”). From 1939-1941 Dr. Paletta worked at the Bernard Skin and Cancer Center in St. Louis. It was there that he met his future wife, Trudy, who was the secretary for Dr. Cowdry, the head of Anatomy at Washington University. Sam completed a two year residency in Surgery at the University of Virginia under Dr. Lehman. In 1943 he enlisted in the Army Medical Corps and attended the Medical Field Service School at Carlisle Barracks in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Prior to heading overseas as part of Operation Overlord, he spent 12 weeks in Plastic Surgery at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York under the direction of Drs. Jerome Pierce Webster and Gustave Aufricht. He was commissioned in this program with Dr. Dave Robinson who would become one of his closest friends following the war.
Sam served in the US Army as a plastic surgeon from July 2, 1943 until February 24, 1947. Eighteen months were spent overseas with the 35th Evacuation Hospital in the Army European Theatre of Operations that was assigned to Patton’s Third Army following the Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944. He participated in the battles at Normandy, Northern France, the Rhineland, the Ardennes (“Battle of the Bulge”), and the Central European Campaign in Germany. After VE Day, his unit was mobilizing for the Pacific campaign and was in a liberty ship in the Panama canal when the Japanese surrendered. Sam was then re-assigned to Dibble General Hospital in Menlo Park, California for two years. Dibble was one of nine plastic surgery centers established during World War II. The facility eventually became the Stanford Research Center. He was part of a team of plastic surgeons that included Brad Macomber (Albany,NY and former AAPS President), Hal Patton(Oakland,CA), Bill Berkeley(Charlotte, NC), Lenny Rubin, Mike Ruch, Richard Shepard(San Francisco), Henry Briele, Chuck Trabue(Columbus, OH), Curtis Lamp, Joe Gale (Madison,WI), and Pete Iverson(Philadelphia).
From 1947-1949, he was a resident in Plastic Surgery at Columbia Presbyterian under Dr. J.P.Webster. He then moved to St. Louis in 1949 and joined Dr. C. Rollins Hanlon in the Department of Surgery at Saint Louis University. Dr. Paletta recalled receiving a phone call from James Barrett Brown shortly after his arrival in St. Louis, “Major Paletta, this is General Barrett Brown. We already have three plastic surgeons here in St. Louis…we don’t need a fourth.” Sam decided to remain in St. Louis and began a residency program in Plastic Surgery at Saint Louis University in 1954, a position he held as Director until his retirement in 1985. He recalled taking his boards in Plastic Surgery in Houston in 1950. There were four candidates at that time. After the board examination, he and the other candidates were invited to Dr. Tom Cronin’s house for a dinner especially prepared by Mrs. Cronin.
Dr. Paletta was a founding member of both the Plastic Surgery Research Council and the American Society for Surgery of the Hand. He was on the Editorial Board for the Journal of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and served as Vice-Chair of the American Board of Plastic Surgery from 1968-1969. He followed his good friend, Dave Robinson, as President of ASPRS in 1968 at the annual meeting at the Fairmont Hotel in New Orleans.
Sam was a member of the first Plastic Surgery Travel Club. This prestigious club included Drs. Willie White (Pittsburgh), Reed Dingman (Michigan), Joe Murray (Boston), Steve Lewis(Galveston), Milt Edgerton(Charlottesville), Dick Stark (New York), Bob McCormack (Rochester), and Dave Robinson (Kansas). He published one of the first textbooks on Pediatric Plastic Surgery. He performed research and authored manuscripts on a variety of topics including coronary artery disease, ovarian cancer in mice, breast tumors and metastases, tourniquet ischemia, techniques in otoplasty, congenital thumb deformities, hidradenitis, effect of hypothermia on wound healing, immediate head and neck reconstruction following cancer resection, lymphangioma, post-ischemic changes in the sympathectomized extremity, hemangioma thrombocytopenia syndrome , columellar reconstruction, and the management of hemophilia in plastic surgery patients. He served as historian for ASPRS and in 1965 published the “History of the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.”
Like many of his generation, Sam was a member of what Tom Brokaw has called “the Greatest Generation.” He was born after the turn of the 20th century to immigrant parents, grew up during the Great Depression, went overseas in World War II, and returned home to start a family and a career. He is representative of an entire generation of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons who obtained their surgical training in the Army and returned from war to establish the training programs and organizations that serve as the foundation of modern Plastic Surgery in the United States. He is survived by his wife, Mary, and his eight children, three of whom are physicians. His son, Christian Paletta, is Chief of the Plastic Surgery service at Saint Louis University that Sam Paletta started 61 years ago.