Gary C. Burget, M.D.
1941 - 2017
My gentle and brilliant friend, Gary Burget, passed away at his home in Chicago on the last day of May. He had retired from active practice in October of last year, shortly after I saw him at the ASPS Annual Meeting. He is survived by his brother, Dean and his sister, Anne Withey.
Dr. Burget was raised in Toledo, Ohio where his parents, Dean and Marie Burget, were schoolteachers. Like him, Gary’s older brother, Dean, is a plastic surgeon practicing in Pennsylvania. Dr. Burget graduated from Thomas A. De Vilbiss High School in Toledo, coincidentally the same one as my college roommate – – also coincidentally, both were presidents of their classes in their senior years. Dr. Burget was a graduate of Yale University and Yale Medical School, which he completed in 1967. During his fourth year he arranged a surgical clerkship with Mr. Andrew Logan in Edinburgh, the cardiac surgeon who had pioneered mitral valve dilatation for the many patients of that era crippled by the cardiac sequelae of rheumatic fever. It was this exposure that stimulated Dr. Burget toward a career in surgery.
Following an internship at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, Dr. Burget completed general surgery residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, and then a plastic surgery fellowship with Dr. Ralph Millard.
Though invited to join Dr. Millard in practice, and following a few years’ association with Dr. Walter Garst, Dr. Burget eventually opened his own private practice in Miami. During this time he began to receive reconstructive cases from Dr. Henry Menn, a local Mohs surgeon, which stimulated him to create aesthetic reconstructive techniques that placed scars in more favorable locations rather than only plugging defects or “O-filling”, one of Dr. Millard’s proscriptions.
Eventually Dr. Burget moved his practice to Chicago, where he continued to perform facial and then nasal reconstructions. At the encouragement of Dr. Ernesto Espaldon from Guam, Dr. Burget made 19 mission trips to various Filipino islands, during which time he met Dr. David Furnas and his resident at the time, Dr. Frederick Menick.
Partnership with Dr. Menick soon produced a series of remarkable journal articles on facial reconstruction and introduced the principles of identifying and crafting aesthetic units and more purposefully locating scars. Though the concept was thoroughly unconventional for the time, their results were unimpeachable. Surgeons began to adopt their techniques.
While absently whittling a champagne cork one evening (characteristically an excellent vintage), Dr. Burget suddenly conjectured that placing cartilage grafts place beneath a forehead flap early in the reconstruction would brace the supporting scaffold and prevent surface distortions, an epiphany that was right and soon became routine.
The culmination of the Burget-Menick partnership produced Aesthetic Reconstruction of the Nose in 1994, a seminal text that systematically demonstrated surgical techniques for treating defects of all sizes – – small ones on the surface to total nasal reconstructions and the use of free flaps for nasal lining. Their detailed technical explanations of methods for making lining, skeletal support, and aesthetic cover – – how to create really normal noses--produced stunning results. They held nothing back, including candid reviews of their own complications—regrettably still unusual in surgical texts. Aesthetic Reconstruction of the Nose became the standard reference work for all of us until it was superseded by later independent publications by each author.
Dr. Burget’s last book was Aesthetic Reconstruction of the Child’s Nose, published in 2012.
Typically, he remained as honest about his failures as he was about his successes and, always the teacher, recognized and acknowledged what he did not yet know. One of the most valuable aspects of this book was its long-term follow-up of two and sometimes three decades as these children grew. In recognition of his writing and accomplishments, Dr. Burget was President of The Rhinoplasty Society from 2002-2003. He received the James Barrett Brown Award twice (1990 and 2008) from the American Association of Plastic Surgeons and was their Clinician of the Year in 2006, one of the highest honors that organized plastic surgery can bestow.
Looking at the pages of his last text today, the sadness and fear in the eyes of the children deformed by disease or trauma is uniform and striking. Without fail, the relief and selfesteem that glows from the postoperative images is a reminder of what all plastic surgeons have discovered about the power of good reconstructions to eliminate deformity and restore the normal. These children have been brought to life, poetically and literally.
Nothing I can write quite adequately captures the Gary Burget that his friends and colleagues knew. His lectures were always memorable – – organized, scholarly, precise, replete with classical allusions, and quirky. Gary would frequently drop his voice while he was speaking and make some amusing aside that I strained to hear; I was never sure if he were talking to his audience or to himself. It didn’t actually matter. I always learned something.
Over the years we met for dinner on many occasions and spoke by phone. We shared patients, and he rescued me a couple of times. I know how much he worried when things were not going perfectly for one of his patients and how important it was to him that we all learn the right reparative methods. Like many excellent surgeons, he was self-critical and introspective. He presumed that most surgeons operated faster than he did (which was probably true) and understood reconstructive principles better (which was rarely true). His diffidence and charm made him very accessible to the many colleagues and younger surgeons eager to learn what he knew.
Whenever Gary wrote a new text, I would buy a copy, but a few weeks later he would send me a gift edition. Inside his final publication on reconstruction in children, the inscription read, “With thanks for your gifts of wisdom and friendship.”
And the same to you, my friend.
Mark B. Constantian, M.D.