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Ivo Pitanguy, M.D., 1923 to 2016: A Plastic Surgery Legend, Leaving a Legacy for Generations to Come

Condé-Green, Alexandra M.D.

Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery: March 2017 - Volume 139 - Issue 3 - p 777–780
doi: 10.1097/PRS.0000000000003115
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Newark, N.J.; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

From the Division of Plastic Surgery, Department of General Surgery, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School; and the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Ivo Pitanguy Institute.

Received for publication August 7, 2016; accepted September 7, 2016.

Disclosure: The author declares no conflicts of interests with respect to the authorship and/or publication of this Obituary.

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Alexandra Condé-Green, M.D., Division of Plastic Surgery, Department of General Surgery, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, Newark, N.J. 07103,

Ivo Hélcio Jardim de Campos Pitanguy was born in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brazil. Beyond being one of the most fascinating plastic surgeons our specialty has ever known, he was a pioneer, a teacher, a writer, a celebrity, a philanthropist, a naturist, a philosopher, and a family man, among many of his attributes.

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In 1961, after treating numerous victims from the tragic fire of a North American circus in Niteroi,1 he stated: “I saw the importance of saving lives and functions, but it seemed that nobody gave importance to the stigma of deformity and how people suffered with that.” He worked tirelessly to make plastic surgery respected and more widely recognized as a specialty unto itself. He developed many surgical techniques such as breast reduction, mastopexy, face lifting, abdominoplasty, dermolipectomy of the upper and lower extremities, otoplasty, and many more, which are well described in his award-winning book, Aesthetic Plastic Surgery of Head and Body,2 published in 1981.

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In 1960, Professor Pitanguy created one of the finest worldwide plastic surgery training programs. During 3 years, the alumni are exposed to a wide range of plastic surgery procedures at the 38th Infirmary of the Hospital Santa Casa da Misericórdia, the private Ivo Pitanguy Clinic, and associated services in Rio de Janeiro. After my general surgery residency in Haiti, I was fortunate to be accepted to the program, following the footsteps of my godmother Dr. Margaret Dégand, the only Haitian plastic surgeon, who had trained with Professor Pitanguy 25 years earlier. It was a privilege to work closely with Professor Pitanguy, who inspired me to pursue my curiosity and exercise creativity. During his weekly rounds at the 38th Infirmary, which had five operating rooms dedicated solely to his plastic surgery program, he would help us formulate a plan for the patients (plano cirúrgico); guide us through our procedures; and show us how to perform a superficial muscular aponeurotic system plication, closed rhinoplasties, and many more (Fig. 1). (See Video, Supplemental Digital Content 1, which shows, in the operating theater at the Ivo Pitanguy Clinic, Dona Mariana number 65, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. A. Condé-Green, L. V. Carneiro, Jr., and Professor Ivo Pitanguy, The training was strict. Professor Pitanguy wanted his students to learn the basics of plastic surgery, techniques that were universal and could be applied to all patients before learning any variant. He taught us the sense of responsibility, assigning to each resident his of her own patients from the first consultation to the postoperative care. His principles became so ingrained, I walked off a plane on the way to Australia to attend the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery meeting when I received a call that one of my patients was showing signs of deep venous thrombosis. I learned the hard way, but this was how Professor Pitanguy prepared us to be the responsible plastic surgeons of today.

Fig. 1

Fig. 1



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Professor Pitanguy taught us the value of sharing our experiences through conferences and publications. He encouraged us to share our knowledge with the world through research and publications. He was receptive to new ideas and encouraged us to express ourselves. I approached him with the desire to conduct a pioneer study, at the time, on adipose stem cells, and he accepted my proposal without hesitation. He has authored and coauthored nearly 2000 peer-reviewed plastic surgery articles and book chapters. His recently awarded article describing his experience of 8788 face lifts is a tribute to his practice. Our latest 2016 publications together were two articles on the Plastic Surgery Education Network with Drs. Enzo Rivera Citarella and Samir Janne Hasbun, and a chapter in his last book entitled Cirurgia Plastica: Uma Visão de Sua Amplitude, which he co-edited with Drs. Barbara Machado, Henrique Radwanski, and Francesco Mazzarone. He enjoyed sharing his thoughts with the young generation. Besides plastic surgery books, he has written his autobiography and books detailing his experiences, namely, Viver Vale a Pena 3 and Aprendendo com a Vida,4 which remain sources of inspiration to plastic surgeons around the world.

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Named “Le Michel-Ange du bistouri” by Le Figaro,5 Professor Pitanguy was the plastic surgeon to many stars, and was called abroad to perform plastic surgery to royalty and political figures. He helped make Brazil a popular destination for the rich and famous. When rotating at his clinic to care for these patients, residents were instilled with the obligation to treat each patient with total confidentiality. Professor Pitanguy was always in high demand in courses, meetings, and conferences in Brazil and internationally. After giving his presentations, he would be surrounded by hundreds near the podium who wanted to take pictures with him. While in training, we were always prepared to be called on, to participate in a documentary, a miniseries on the Professor and his work. During my 3 years there, two movies were filmed: Novela na Santa Casa—La Promesse du Bonheur, a French documentary film by Cathie Lévy describing the dreams of women that are looking for the joy of rebirth through plastic surgery; and Rio Sex Comedy, starring Academy Award nominee actress Charlotte Rampling. Professor Pitanguy is an honorary member of numerous societies and prestigious academies and has received countless awards, honors, prizes, and titles. Being trained with the professor has always been an honor, as he was one of the most fascinating men our field has ever seen.

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Beyond his sophisticated lifestyle, Professor Pitanguy had an open heart for those in need. He strongly believed that everyone regardless of his or her social status had a right to beauty, function, and well-being. This marked a radical change to the course of plastic surgery, which was previously the province of only the elite. He emphasized the social importance of our specialty. All reconstructive operations at the 38th Infirmary were pro bono. Patients came from all over the country to seek his care and expertise. Many of his alumni were attending physicians in that infirmary that volunteered their time to the care of patients and the education of residents. This was an invaluable gesture, as each was dedicated and trained us well.

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Professor Pitanguy understood the plastic surgery patient, and he advocated for each. The following are two of his pertinent quotes: “An individual’s suffering is not proportional to his deformity, but to the perturbation caused to his harmony by living with his image” and “Plastic surgery’s quest emanates from a transcendent purpose. It is the attempt to harmonize body and spirit, emotion and reason, aiming for a balance that allows the individual to feel in harmony with his own image and with the universe that surrounds him.”

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His personality was marked by the pleasure of socializing and entertaining. He enjoyed the company of the human being. He enjoyed nature in all of its splendor, whether it was skiing in his chalet in Switzerland or diving at his island, Angra dos Reis. He loved animals, especially birds; he enjoyed the waters. He competitively engaged in karate and tennis.

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Professor Pitanguy was a beloved husband, father, and grandfather. He was a true mentor, a man that we admired. He did not have a lot of time, but when one of us would ask to have an audience with him, he would be attentive and encouraging. He cared for his residents and gave us constructive criticism. He spoke six languages fluently and addressed foreign residents in their native language to make them feel at home. At meetings, often accompanied by his daughter Dra Gisela and later on by his grandson Dr. Antonio Paulo, he would make time for us, his residents, despite an impossible schedule, to have lunch such as in New York during the Cutting Edge and in Washington, D.C., during The Aesthetic Meeting, and dinner in Seattle during Plastic Surgery The Meeting. With nearly 600 plastic surgeons from more than 40 countries who have trained under Professor Pitanguy, the Association of Alumni of Professor Ivo Pitanguy6 is one of the most notorious associations of its kind, holding annual meetings where all join together as a big family to present our latest studies and exchange ideas (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2

Fig. 2

The last time I saw you my dear Professor…

I came to Brazil last November, passed through Rio to see you as always, and headed to the hospital with Dona Luzia Ghosn. Well dressed as always, you were watching old movies and shared your afternoon snacks with us. You were so proud that I was heading to Belo Horizonte to give two presentations at the 52nd Annual Meeting of the Brazilian Society of Plastic Surgery. I will never forget your words to me: “It is the overcoming of one’s own work by those who succeed him that defines the progress of humanity.”

You have marked an era. All who had the privilege and good fortune to know you have so many wonderful memories of you throughout the years. I still remember the times when we would hear your footsteps in the hallway and would quickly change the music to classical, which you preferred we listen to in the operating theater.

You have made us part of the large family of “Pitanguetes” which we will cherish for the rest of our lives. You made us proud once again at your last public appearance, holding with pride and courage the Olympic torch at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Un Grand Merci Professeur pour avoir changé nos vies. Muito Obrigada Professor por ter nos inculcado a paixão da cirurgia plástica. Your work has lived through generations and will continue to inspire generations to come. We love you, and will forever be grateful to you.

Life teaches me every day. I believe that the sad thing about dying is to stop feeling this desire to always learn a bit more. I try to balance my life between surgeries, lectures and conferences, without putting aside the enjoyment of living.

—Ivo Pitanguy

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I thank all who have made training at the Ivo Pitanguy Institute for 3 years a wonderful and unforgettable once-in-a-lifetime experience. I thank all the attending plastic surgeons, anesthetists, nurses, aestheticians, secretaries, the administration, the Pitanguy family, the whole personnel of the 38th Infirmary, the Clinica Ivo Pitanguy, the Ivo Pitanguy Institute, the National Institute of Cancer, the Hospital Municipal Jesus, the Hospital dos Servidores do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, the Burn Unit at the Hospital Andarai, the laboratory at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, the Colégio Brasileiro dos Cirurgiões, and the Hospital da Plástica. To my fellow residents, the 47th turma, you were exceptional. To all the residents and the alumni, we are blessed to have worked with such an extraordinary man. To all plastic surgeons around the world, we are all lucky that he left a legacy in our field for generations to come.

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1. Pitanguy ITratamento dos queimados da catástrofe do grande circo norte-americano.Rev Bras Cir196448256–278
2. Pitanguy IAesthetic Plastic Surgery of Head and Body1981HeidelbergSpringer Verlag
3. Pitanguy IViver Vale a Pena2014Rio de JaneiroLeya
4. Pitanguy IAprendando com a Vida1993São PauloEditora Best Steller
5. Wulwek DIvo Pitanguy, le Michel-Ange du bistouri.Le FigaroAugust 7, 2009Available at: Accessed August 7, 2016
6. Association of Alumni of Professor Ivo PitanguyAvailable at: Accessed August 7, 2016

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©2017American Society of Plastic Surgeons