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Earlier this month, the world lost one of its most innovative plastic surgeons, Dr. Thomas Rees, one of the founding members of Flying Doctors Service of East Africa. As the New York Times reported, Dr. Rees was known as, “one of the fathers of aesthetic surgery in New York.” He was also highly lauded for his humanitarian contributions and the work he performed in Africa providing care to needy Africans in rural communities that otherwise would have little to no treatment options.

Dr. Sullivan remembers Dr. Rees as, “a terrific contributor to plastic surgery” and remembers first becoming aware of Dr. Rees through his textbooks on aesthetic surgery. Later, when Dr. Sullivan met Dr. Rees he was greatly inspired by his work with the Flying Doctors Service of East Africa. In fact, after completing his plastic surgery residency and fellowship Dr. Sullivan made the decision to volunteer in Africa himself. He spent 6 weeks in Lesotho, Africa working as the only plastic surgeon in the country. Working with the Flying Doctors Service, Dr. Sullivan was flown to various outposts and clinics where he would offer his services and provide reconstructive surgery to the people of Southern Africa. Sullivan remembers how the Flying Doctors Service gave him the opportunity to “bring back cleft patients and a variety of others to the Queen Victoria hospital to perform the surgery.”

As Dr. Sullivan notes, “Dr. Rees was then and still is a great inspiration.” Later in his career, Dr. Sullivan remembers Dr. Rees accepting the invitation to speak at the North Eastern Society of Plastic Surgeons meeting, “The NESPS flew him in from Sante Fe and although he was a bit frail, he gave a powerful presentation.” Dr. Sullivan remembers him as a gentleman and inspiration on many levels. After Dr. Rees retired, Dr. Sullivan continued to provide care to some of Dr. Rees’ former patients here in Providence, Rhode Island.

Local African woman holding her infant born with cleft lip and palate.

Local African woman holding her infant born with cleft lip and palate.

Dr. Sullivan meets with local woman to asses her infant born with cleft lip and palate.

Dr. Sullivan meets with local woman to asses her infant born with cleft lip and palate.

Dr. Sullivan skillfully operating on infant born with cleft lip and palate in Kenyan operating room.

Dr. Sullivan skillfully operating on infant born with cleft lip and palate in Kenyan operating room.

Dr. Sullivan looks in on infant recovering from cleft lip and palate surgery.

Dr. Sullivan looks in on infant recovering from cleft lip and palate surgery.