Brazilian plastic surgeon Prof Ivo Pitanguy died on Saturday August 6, aged 93, at his home in Rio de Janeiro. He had been suffering for some time from kidney problems and died of heart failure during a dialysis treatment.
On the day before his death, Prof Pitanguy, seated in a wheelchair, carried the Olympic torch in Rio during a relay to light the flame for the opening ceremony of the Games.
Prof Pitanguy established himself as one of the world’s most famous plastic surgeons, through his marketing savvy as well as through his surgical skills. The Brazilian press chronicled the movements of his yachts, the celebrities who arrived by helicopter at his private island outside Rio, his dinner engagements, his charity appearances and his pro bono work.
In 1961, he operated on victims, among them many children, of a fire that had broken out in a circus tent in the city of Niterói, near Rio. He was one of the few Brazilian doctors at the time with advanced training
in reconstructing the skin of people who had been severely burned. Prof Pitanguy helped develop techniques that have become standard in plastic surgery, among them breast reduction operations and tummy tucks with scars low enough to hide under a bikini bottom.
To gain expertise in plastic surgery, a specialty that was not available in Brazil in the 1940s, he studied in the United States, France and Britain. He trained in Paris with Prof Marc Iselin, an expert in reconstructive hand surgery, and in London with Prof Harold Gillies and Prof Archibald McIndoe, the pioneers of plastic surgery. He also worked at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
When Prof Pitanguy returned to Brazil, plastic surgery was still in its infancy, so he worked first in trauma surgery and hand surgery, eventually becoming the chairman of the plastic surgery department at Santa Casa da Misericordia, a public hospital in Rio, in the 1950s.
There, he started a special wing to provide plastic and reconstructive surgery, including grafts for skin burns, to low-income patients while it served as a training centre for young surgeons. Prof Pitanguy taught them his methods for face lifts, liposuction and other procedures, like a breast reduction and contouring surgery called the Arie-Pitanguy technique, which were provided to patients at nominal costs.
Many of the cosmetic surgeons operating in Brazil today trained in one way or another with Prof Pitanguy, as residents, fellows or surgical observers.
Doctors from all over the world went to Rio to watch Prof Pitanguy operate, and to train with him.
Prof Pitanguy is survived by his wife of more than 60 years, Marilu Nascimento; four children, Ivo, Gisela, Helcius and Bernardo; and five grandchildren, including Prof Antonio Paulo Pitanguy, who is a second-year resident in plastic surgery.